A Guide to Hawaii’s Short-Term Rental Regulations

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

COVID-19 Hawaii Updates

Hawaii’s short-term rental regulations are infamously difficult to navigate, especially since COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know.

Gov. David Ige has appointed a task force to plan and implement the reopening of the state economy, including the travel industry, but uncertainty remains about how and when that reopening will happen.

While government leaders have worked to develop hygiene, health and safety guidelines as they prepare for travel to resume, recently Hawaii moved to delay the reopening of travel until October 15th, 2020.

What are the current travel restrictions in Hawaii?

Hawaii reopened to U.S. travelers on Oct. 15, 2020 with restrictions.

  • Effective March 26, 2020 through November 30, 2020, Hawaii Governor David Ige mandated that all visitors arriving to the Hawaii Islands self-quarantine for 14 days following their arrival unless they participate in the Pre-Travel Testing Program.
  • As of October 15, 2020, visitors that have tested negative to the Covid-19 test within 72 hours before arrival may bypass this quarantine as a part of the Pre-Travel Program, by arriving with proof of a negative COVID-19 NAAT from the state of Hawaii’s Trusted Testing and Travel Partners list.
  • Also effective October 15, interisland travel to Kauai or Maui is allowed if participating in the pre-travel program.
  • Effective Saturday, August 8, parks and beaches are closed, and the order closing bars and placing restrictions on restaurants that serve alcohol remains still intact.
  • Short-term vacation rentals (STVR), bed and breakfast (B&B) establishments, or other paid or commercial lodging defined by the Hawaii may not be designated as a quarantine location except for:
  1. Visiting essential and critical infrastructure workers, provided quarantine restrictions are followed; and
  2. Persons meeting the negative test exception under the Pre-Travel Testing Program.

*Currently, international travel restrictions prohibit European and other countries from traveling to the U.S.

Can you travel to Hawaii now?

Yes, but there is a mandatory 14-day quarantine required for all passengers (visitors and returning residents) arriving into the state of Hawaii on or before November 30, 2020. As of October, 15, 2020, the alternative to quarantining upon arrival is proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before arrival.

Additionally, every adult traveler (including officers and crew members) flying from the continental U.S., and internationally must complete the MANDATORY TRAVEL DECLARATION FORM and the revised 14-day ORDER FOR SELF QUARANTINE FORM. Since visitors would need to quarantine in their rooms for most or all of their vacation (14 days), Hawaii Government officials are encouraging travelers to postpone their trips.

On October 15th,  the pre-travel program launches that may exempt travelers from the 14-day quarantine if testing negative for coronavirus no more than 72 hours in advance of travel.

What to expect when you can travel to Hawaii:

When the pre-travel testing program finally launches, there will be a “multi-layered screening process to protect residents and visitors.”

Here are the key details:

  • Travelers will be exempt from the 14-day quarantine if they test negative after taking a COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours in advance of travel.
  • The test must be a nucleic acid amplification test or NAAT test conducted at a CLIA-certified laboratory.
  • If test results are not available by the time of arrival in Hawaiʻi, the traveler will remain in quarantine until their test results are received. If the test results are negative and can be verified, the traveler will then be exempt from the quarantine.
  • All travelers are subject to the pre-test requirement, including children of all ages.
  • Travelers are responsible for the cost of the test.
  • No commercial testing will be provided at Hawaiʻi airports.

 The four counties have different and varying guidelines, details by island:

  • The Big Island – CLICK HERE
    • Travelers arriving to the Big Island that choose to participate in the newly launched pre-travel testing program must also take a second, free rapid antigen test at the airport upon arrival.
  • Oahu – CLICK HERE
    • Travelers arriving in Oahu can bypass the 14-day quarantine period by taking a PCR test no later than 72 hours before departure and receiving a negative result.
  • Kauai – CLICK HERE
    • Travelers arriving in Kauai can bypass the 14-day quarantine period by taking a PCR test no later than 72 hours before departure and receiving a negative result.
  • Maui County (Maui, Molokai, Lanai) – CLICK HERE
    • Travelers arriving in Maui can also bypass the 14-day quarantine period by taking a PCR test no later than 72 hours before departure and receiving a negative result.

History of Hawaii’s Short-Term Rental Regulations

While it may be a tropical and popular getaway, Hawaii’s short-term vacation rental regulations can make owning a vacation rental in the Aloha State seem like a headache, but with the right support and on-the-ground experts, owning a vacation rental in Hawaii is still a smart and lucrative option.

Hawaii’s counties each have different—and regularly evolving—rules for vacation rental properties. Regulations are designed to satisfy neighbors and the state’s 9 million annual visitors. Tourist hot spots like the Big Island and Oahu recently revised their short-term vacation rental (STR) regulations to limit the number of rental properties in residential areas. While these new rules drew initial concern—and a lot of paperwork—from Hawaii’s STR owners, they remain optimistic.

The allure of Hawaii will always fill people’s imaginations. There are those that have experienced not just the destination, but the culture which brings people back year after year. Hawaii will always prove it’s a unique place for investment,” said local team member.  

The following guide to Hawaii’s STR regulations highlights what to know before buying a rental home in Hawaii, the different restrictions per county, and how to navigate Hawaii’s rental rules more easily.  

Hawaii’s STR regulations vary by county

STR regulations look different across Hawaii’s counties, however there is one main consistency:

All islands and counties allow short-term vacation rentals within the resort-coded zoned areas. It gets trickier—and in some counties, near impossible—to operate STR homes in residential areas.

Across the board, Hawaii’s STR regulators also require on-island contacts. This is one way a knowledgeable property manager can alleviate regulation headaches. Additionally, some regulators also require owners to place registration numbers on the exterior and interior of the house as well, with good neighbor policies such as “quiet hours” displayed prominently inside.

Specifications on zoning, fees, parking, and more vary across Hawaii’s four countries. Here’s a quick breakdown of the highlights and recent changes:

Hawaii County STR Regulations

In November 2018, Hawaii County, also known as the Big Island, adopted the new Bill 108 that brought numerous changes to Hawaii County’s STR industry. Under this bill (now a law under Rule 23), all STR owners are required to register their property (which includes a nonrefundable one-time fee of $500) by September 28, 2019. Those who already have an STR in residential areas will be OK under a grandfathering clause.

Our local team member said, “If your condo is near a hotel or resort you’ll more than likely be given a permit, you’ll just have to register”. “We’re working through anything that’s in a residential area to get special-use permits so our homeowners can continue their businesses.”

Those homeowners, who established their STR before April 1, 2019, will still need to apply for a Nonconforming Use Certificate that requires annual renewal at $250, per the new rule.

Moving forward, Hawaii County STRs will only be allowed in the V (resort), CG (general commercial), and CV (village commercial) districts. The new ordinance 2018-114 has a number of additional STR stipulations to keep neighbors and the community happy, including:

  • A good neighbor policy requires quiet hours from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. These hours should be prominently displayed in the home, and they must be part of the rental agreement each tenant signs.
  • All print and digital ads for the STR need to include the registration or nonconforming use certificate number.
  • Guest vehicles must be parked in the designated onsite parking areas.

While the Big Island’s rules are getting stricter, this is still one of the top spots for budget-conscious prospective homeowners.

Honolulu County STR Regulations

In Honolulu County, home of the most visited island, Oahu, it’s a different story.

“If [prospective buyers] are looking on Oahu, I’ll be clear there are only some areas you can have a vacation rental,” our team member said. “For the most part, people don’t want to buy a vacation rental on Waikiki, so I make sure they understand the restrictions and new ordinances.”

Honolulu County recognizes 2 types of  STRs: bed-and-breakfast homes and transient vacation units. In a B&B, the homeowner is present during the guest’s stay, with a maximum of 4 guests. With transient vacation units (TVUs), the host rents the entire home and is not living there during the stay; these have stricter zoning regulations.

Honolulu County’s new Bill 89, signed into law June 25, 2019, set the groundwork for tougher enforcement on STRs. TVUs are prohibited outside the resort districts unless they have a Nonconforming Use Certificate. The bill allows for a maximum of 1,699 owner-occupied, hosted B&Bs outside the resort zoned areas after October 1, 2020.

To launch with strong enforcement, Honolulu County’s Bill 89 makes even advertising an illegal STR a fineable offense of up to $10,000.

Homeowners can apply for registration starting October 1, 2020. “Time is required for the department to develop more specific procedures for implementing Bill 89 CD2, including the adoption of rules, and creating the software to help with enforcement and the registration process,” according to the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting. The initial registration fee is $1,000; annual renewal is $2,000.

Prior to registering, here are a few new requirements STR owners should keep in mind:

  • Applicants must be the actual person, not an organization or company
  • Tenants must observe quiet hours between 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
  • Neighbors (within 250 feet) must have a 24-hour phone number to call with any complaints

Maui County STR Regulations

Like Honolulu County, Maui County recognizes two types of STRs: B&Bs and short-term rental homes. Rules and permits vary for each type of home.

B&Bs, which require an owner to be onsite, are permitted in a variety of locations, including residential, hotel, business, rural, and agricultural zones. In some cases, such as B&Bs in agricultural zones, permits come with additional requirements. The number of permits available for B&Bs is limited. For example, Hana will allow up to 48 permits and West Maui has 88; Molokai and Lanai currently have no established caps. Waitlists are available once caps are reached.

A short-term rental home (STRH) permit, which includes most rentals outside B&Bs, requires that the house must’ve been built 5 years prior to the application. The home needs to be 500 feet from neighboring homes, the homeowner is responsible for notifying neighbors about the STRH permit application, and the homeowner must also create an on-site parking plan. If a permit is granted, the homeowner is required to display a 24/7 phone number and the planning department’s phone number on the outside of the home. Initial permits last 3 years, with all permits after lasting for 5 years.

Kauai County STR Regulations

Kauai County follows suit with its own strict regulations. In fact, Kauai no longer allows new homeowners to start STRs outside the permitted visitor destination areas, according to Hawaii Business. Homeowners wishing to start an STR within the visitor destination area are required to register their property with the director of finance beforehand, according to Bill 2364, Ordinance 904.

Homeowners who do have Nonconforming Use Certificates (which require renewal processes), are required to display their registration number and the 24/7 contact’s phone number in a visible place on the front of the property and on the back of the front door. Advertisements must also include the registration number.

To curb illegal STRs, Kauai County maintains a regularly updated list of all approved homestays and nonconforming STRs, available online.

How to navigate Hawaii’s STR regulations

These ever-evolving and varying STR rules make owning a vacation rental in Hawaii cumbersome to say the least. That’s why property management is as essential for any Hawaii rental home owner. Our local team member says:

“Most owners are remote, so we have designated personnel to help owners understand the ordinances and file the paperwork on their behalf”. “I always send prospective homeowners the latest draft of the ordinances as well, just so they know what’s ahead.”

Another perk of collaborating with a property management team? The local knowledge someone can bring like that of our own team members who tell homeowners about the neighborhood, where it’s headed, potential developments, and insider tips to help them make the best decision for business and personal use. If you’re still overwhelmed by the rental regulations in Hawaii, you may be better off looking at destinations with lax policies. In this roundup, we’ve compiled the top destinations with homeowner-friendly policies to make running your vacation rental business a breeze.

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