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Update from the County: Guest House Policy Accessory Structure Distance Policy

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 4:13 PM | Karin Shaw (Administrator)

Effective August 1, 2020: Below memo, unless or until the Hawai'i County Code is amended to address the issues contained herein.

This memorandum (memo) is to provide clarification regarding code interpretation and implementation of guest houses and detached bedrooms. Although there have been numerous director policy memos on this subject, former Director Duane Kanuha issued a memo on October 20, 2014 which rescinded all previous directors' memos. Effective August 1, 2020, this memo will rescind all previous memos regarding code interpretation and implementation of guest houses and detached bedrooms until an ordinance amending the guest house sections and related sections of the Hawai'i County Code can be adopted by the County Council, at which time this memo will be considered void.

The traditional single-family dwelling unit comprised of a single structure containing all functions of a dwelling is still applicable. Today landowners often want to utilize an architectural style of dwelling design commonly referred to as "pod" or "pod design" where the functions of a home are dispersed across several structures. However, pod construction does not comply with the county code. The current code only allows for one detached guest house with a maximum of 500 square feet of gross floor area.

A previous director had implemented a policy that offered a solution that meets the requirements of the current code while allowing the possibility of having pod style  dwelling.  This alternative was termed a "structural attachment." A structural attachment establishes a common roof line where the structures share a roof or a common wall line where the structures share a wall. The structural attachment maintains the single-family definition of a house as it may be considered one structure while allowing the appearance and functionality of a detached structure.

This memo returns to the policy of structural attachment as it provides architectural guidance to designers and landowners for application submittals, as well as to staff for review of the requirements for application approvals.

Therefore, the department will implement the following:

Guest House

Section 25-1-5 of HCC defines a guest house as the following:

'"Guest house' means an accessory building used as sleeping quarters for guests of the occupants of the main dwelling and having no cooking facilities." (underline added for emphasis)

By definition, a guest house is sleeping quarters. Bedrooms are spaces within dwellings where occupants sleep, so they are also sleeping quarters. Thereby, a detached guest house and a detached bedroom are the same thing pursuant to the following:

Section 25-4-9 of the Hawai'i County Code (HCC) states:

"One guest house may only be established on a building site that is at least seven thousand five hundred square feet in area. A guest house shall not exceed five hundred square feet in gross floor area, shall not be more than twenty feet in height, and shall not have a kitchen." (underline added for emphasis)

Gross Floor Area

Section 25-1-5 of HCC defines gross floor area as the following:

'"Floor area, gross' means the total area of all floors of a building including a basement measured along the exterior walls of such building."

The planning department continues to interpret the gross floor area to include all interior space and any attached area including, garages, car ports, lanai's, decks, balcony's, etc. This will now include living areas that are structurally attached as outlined in this memo.

Structural Attachment

If the structure or living space is structurally attached, the 500 sq.ft. limitation does not apply. The structural attachment provides the planning department a reasonable argument to identify all structures attached by roof or wall as one structure.

Maximum Distance for Primary and Accessory Structure Relationship

This applies to both detached guest houses and structurally attached living spaces. As noted in the definition of a guest house, it is an accessory building and is accessory to the primary dwelling. As the accessory structure increases in distance from the primary structure, it loses its relationship to the primary structure or use.

This memo establishes a policy that has been a long-standing practice for the accessory structure to be within thirty (30) feet of the primary structure to maintain the relationship between structures. If a hardship is clearly identified on the application and found to be reasonable by the department, a distance of no greater than fifty (50) feet can be allowed between the primary and assessor structures on a case by case basis. Potential hardships may include but are not limited to: a change of grade on the site, existing vegetation that is to remain or is difficult to relocate like a large tree, siting of utilities like wastewater septic system, etc.


  •  A dwelling may have separated living spaces that are structurally attached by a common roof or wall.
  •  In addition to structurally attached living spaces, a dwelling may have one (1) guest house in accordance with the Hawai 'i County Code.
  • Both guest houses and structurally attached living spaces must be within thirty (30) feet of the primary structure, subject to demonstration of a hardship, which may allow a distance of up to fifty (50) feet.
  • The above is subject to compliance with all other Hawai 'i County Codes.

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