Hawaii State Senator Brenton Awa has presented a bill aimed at banning foreign buyers from purchasing or investing in property on the island. The senator said the bill, if passed, would be an important to improving affordability for residents.

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Nine months after Florida passed a foreign buyer ban aimed at citizens of eight countries considered enemies of the United States, a Hawaii state senator has presented a foreign buyer ban aimed at curbing worsening affordability for local buyers.

Sen. Brenton Awa

“The people want this,” Senator Brenton Awa told Honolulu news outlet KHON2 on Tuesday. “During the pandemic, right before I got into office here, we saw the home prices jump up $400,000 within a year, and that was because people outside were coming in.”

Awa’s bill, Senate Bill 2617, would prevent foreign buyers from directly or indirectly owning or having a controlling interest in a property, except for a de minimus indirect interest of “five percent of any class of registered equities or less than five percent in the aggregate in multiple classes of registered equities.”

The bill does not apply to foreigners who bought or invested in property before July 1, 2024. However, there’s a provision that requires them to register their property with the Hawaii State Attorney General’s office by Jan. 1, 2025, or face a $1,000 daily fine.

Lastly, any foreign buyer who attempts to purchase or invest in a property on or after July 1, 2024, would be required to “sell, transfer, or otherwise divest” from the property after three years. The only exception in the bill is for foreign buyers who purchase a property for diplomatic purposes that are “recognized, acknowledged, or allowed by the federal government.”

“When [foreigners come] in with cash, and our salaries over here are less than those of the people who are ready to retire, we can’t compete,” Awa said. “This year, we just went straight for what another state had already passed, across the board foreigners banned and there might be amendments we have to make, but we’ll see.”

The Hawaii State Legislature hosted a public hearing on Tuesday where the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, the Department of the Attorney General, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Hawaii chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP), and the Hawaii Credit Union League opposed SB2617.

The opponents agreed with Awa about Hawaii’s affordability issue but said the bill violates the Equal Credit Opportunities Act and would open the state to years of litigation and substantial monetary liability.

Reyn Tanaka

NAIOP Hawaii President Reyn Tanaka said SB2617, if passed, would do irreparable harm to Hawaii by pushing affordable housing developers away from the state.

“NAIOP Hawaii stands in opposition to this measure which would seek to prohibit any foreign principal from owning property in Hawaii,” he said in a public letter. “Prohibiting foreign ownership of property in Hawaii may result in severe economic impacts by preventing outside investment in affordable housing, retail, healthcare, office buildings and other commercial projects that will serve our community and local families for decades to come.”

“NAIOP Hawaii is concerned with potential negative economic impacts SB 2617 would have on development of all product types in Hawaii,” he added. “Development in Hawaii is already among the most heavily regulated [in the] entire country which stifles economic growth, and SB 2617 would make Hawaii one of only a few states to disallow foreign investment and ownership of property.”

While state leaders pushed back on the bill, everyday Hawaiians supported Awa’s mission, as evidenced by more than 1,500 pages of written comments expressing their frustration with foreigners and mainland U.S. citizens coming to the state and driving up prices.

“We STRONGLY SUPPORT this bill. It’s about time!” Hawaii native De Mont Kalai Manaole said during an in-person testimony. “From the arrival of foreigners, Hawaii has had a “FOR SALE” sign embedded on our shores: Robinson claimed Ni’ihau, Elison claimed all, except for 55 Hawaiian homestead lots of Ni’ihau [and] of course now, Zuckerberg thinks Kaua’i belongs to him at the expense of the ‘Ohana Kuleana landowners.”

“It’s time we put up a new sign that reads: HAWAII IS NOT FOR SALE!!!” they added.

The nearly two-hour public hearing ended with legislators deferring the vote on SB2617 until February 13.

This is the second foreign buyer ban to make the headlines this month.

On Tuesday, a panel of judges with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of two buyers impacted by Senate Bill 264, a controversial bill that curbs buyers’ ability to own properties near military installments or critical infrastructure facilities in Florida.

The judges awarded homebuyers Yifan Shen and Zhiming Xu a temporary injunction that will allow them to continue with two transactions halted by the bill. The American Civil Liberties Union is now working on an April appeal to permanently topple the bill, which has been criticized for furthering anti-Chinese stereotypes.

Email Marian McPherson

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