B&B: rules and regulations


Looking to get into the bed and breakfast industry on Hawaii Island? If so, you’re going to need a permit and agree to some rules.

Hawaii County’s Zoning Code requires anyone wanting to operate a B&B obtain a use or special use permit from the Planning Department, said Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd. Applying for the permit costs $500.

Statewide, B&Bs are banned on Oahu unless grandfathered in before a 1989 ban went into effect. Maui and Kauai counties require use permits.

Leithead Todd said B&Bs in Hawaii County differ from other accommodations like hotels, inn and motels because they are limited to single-family dwellings or a guesthouse in which overnight accommodations and only breakfast can be served to a maximum of 10 guests.

Whereas a hotel, for example, can offer lodging of six or more rooms, and accommodations like meals, entertainment and various personal services for compensation to guests and nonguests, she said.

“It’s not an inn or a hotel — it’s a specific category that allows you to make income off a residence,” she said.

Hawaii County’s bed and breakfast permitting process requires a public hearing before one of the county’s planning commissions. The hearing gives neighbors the opportunity to testify and commissioners time to assess potential impacts, Leithead Todd said.

If no issues arise, such as needing modifications or the removal of a cesspool, for example, a permit is issued within four months of the department receiving a completed application, she said.

The department has received 145 B&B permit applications since October 1987. The planning commissions have denied or deferred, or the applicant has withdrawn, 16 of those applications; the most recent denial was in 2006.

Leithead Todd said, during her tenure, the commission hasn’t denied an application. However, there have been instances where conditions have been imposed to address neighbors’ concerns.

As for a trend in applications, Leithead Todd said the number of people seeking permits for a B&B has declined over the past few years. That is also the case with applications for other permits.

While many B&Bs operate legally, various owners said there are still scofflaws.

While the Planning Department does not have the staff to check regularly for illegal operations, if a complaint is received, the department follows up with site visits, Internet and media checks for advertising and photos, as well as gathering any other pertinent information to verify if an operation is illegal, Leithead Todd said.

Penalties depend on the type and severity of the infraction, she said. A penalty can be waived or a $500 fine assessed. In the case an archaeological or shoreline resource is damaged, penalties can be higher.

“We do not see ourselves as punitive so much as trying to get out information to people who often are not aware that they are violating the zoning code and helping them when appropriate to comply with the law and become legal,” she said.