Maui Aims to Reclaim Housing: Thousands of Vacation Rentals Face Phase-Out by 2025

Maui County is taking a significant step to address its housing crisis by proposing to phase out thousands of vacation rentals. This initiative, announced by Mayor Richard Bissen on Thursday, aims to convert these short-term rentals back to long-term housing options for residents.

The plan comes on the heels of a new state law signed by Governor Josh Green on Friday, which empowers counties with greater authority to regulate vacation rentals. Mayor Bissen, joined by representatives from the community group Lahaina Strong and Maui County Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, wasted no time in outlining the county's strategy.

Taking Back Apartment Districts

The crux of the proposal lies in eliminating a decades-old exemption within Maui County. This exemption allowed roughly 7,000 vacation rentals, primarily located in apartment districts, to operate without the proper permits. Notably, many of these units were originally built as workforce housing.

The new bill seeks to revoke this exemption, effectively forcing these vacation rentals to transition back to long-term housing options. This would free up a significant portion of the housing market, potentially easing the burden on Maui residents struggling to find affordable places to live.

A Phased Approach for West Maui

Recognizing the urgency of the housing crisis, particularly for those displaced by recent wildfires in West Maui, the plan outlines a phased approach. By July 1st, 2025, West Maui could see a complete ban on short-term rentals within apartment districts. The remainder of Maui County would have until January 1st, 2026, to comply with the new regulations.

Anticipated Pushback and Legal Battles

Mayor Bissen acknowledges the potential for legal challenges from vacation rental owners. However, he emphasizes the county's strong position due to the new state law and the critical need to prioritize housing for residents.

A Community Divided? Balancing Tourism and Local Needs

Maui's tourism industry is a significant economic driver. The phasing out of vacation rentals is likely to raise concerns from tourism stakeholders. However, proponents of the plan argue that a thriving long-term resident base is essential for a healthy and sustainable tourism industry in the long run.

The Road Ahead: Public Hearings and Council Approval

The proposed bill will undergo public hearings before the Maui Planning Commission in late June. Following this, the Maui County Council will vote on its final approval.

A Turning Point for Maui's Housing Landscape?

If passed, this initiative could mark a significant turning point for Maui's housing crisis. By prioritizing long-term residents and reclaiming a substantial portion of the housing market, Maui County hopes to offer its residents a more secure and affordable place to call home.