Hawaii Intermediate Court: Must Pursue Administrative Process To Object To Vacation Rentals

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Robert Thomas

BY ROBERT THOMAS – The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals issued an opinion June 13, 2012, in Pavsek v. Sandvold, No. 29179 (June 13, 2012), holding that a person complaining about a vacation rental cannot circumvent the City’s enforcement procedures and the administrative appeal process by instituting an original jurisdiction lawsuit claiming that a homeowner is renting her property in violation of the City’s prohibition on rentals of less than thirty days:

We hold that: (1) HRS § 46-4(a) does create a private right of action in favor of a real estate owner directly affected by an alleged LUO [Land Use Ordinance] zoning violation, but that the owner’s action is subject to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction; (2) under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, the Pavseks are required to seek an administrative determination of their claim that their neighbors have been violating the LUO before proceeding with their suit to obtain judicial enforcement of the LUO; (3) the nuisance claims raised by the Pavseks in their complaint were derived from their claim of the LUO violation and therefore are also subject to the primary jurisdiction doctrine; (4) the Circuit Court properly dismissed the claims alleging breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment for failure to state a claim for relief; and (5) the Circuit’s Court’s remedy of dismissal with prejudice of the claims subject to the primary jurisdiction doctrine is not consistent with the remedies applicable to the doctrine.


Slip op. at 2-3 (emphasis original).

We won’t be analyzing the opinion in detail, since our Damon Key colleague Greg Kugle represents the prevailing property owners, and argued the case. The briefs are posted here.

Pavsek v. Sandvold, No. 29179 (Haw. Ct. App. June 13, 2012)




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Robert H. Thomas is one of the preeminent land use lawyers in Hawaii. He specializes in land use issues including regulatory takings, eminent domain, water rights, and voting rights cases. He has tried cases and appeals in Hawaii, California, and the federal courts. Robert received his LLM, with honors, from Columbia Law School where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and his JD from the University of Hawaii School of Law where he served as editor of the Law Review. Robert taught law at the University of Santa Clara School of Law, and was an exam grader and screener for the California Committee of Bar Examiners. He currently serves as the Chair of the Condemnation Law Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section on State & Local Government Law. He is the Hawaii member of Owners’ Counsel of America, a national network of the most experienced eminent domain and property rights lawyers. Membership in OCA is by invitation only, and is limited to a single attorney from each state. Robert is also the Managing Attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation Hawaii Center, a non-profit legal foundation dedicated to protecting property rights and individual liberties. Reach him at rht@hawaiilawyer.com He is also a frequent speaker on land use and eminent domain issues in Hawaii and nationwide. For a list of upcoming events and speaking engagements.