Bill could help Hawaii’s tenant-landlord dispute backlog

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii’s court systems have been slowly returning to service since December, but a tsunami of cases are on the horizon once the state’s moratorium on evictions eventually ends.

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According to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, 30,000 households in Hawaii were late on rent last November.

An anonymous landlord in Hawaii that spoke with KHON2 says that his tenants have not lost employment since the pandemic started, but have avoided paying $25,000 in rent and utilities while leaning on the eviction moratorium to remain in the house.

“We tried to work with them saying hey you know we’re still paying your electricity,” the landlord said. “We’re still paying water. Maybe we can work out a payment plan.”

He added that his wife tried to make them a spreadsheet, but they declined participating in the plan. They also turned down a request to apply for rental assistance, which would go to the landlord. Only tenants are able to apply.

He says he also tried getting an attorney, but Governor Ige’s eviction moratorium covers all renters.

“We don’t know what to do,” the landlord said. “I think the policy that the government came up with is a little bit too broad and doesn’t cover everyone’s situation.”

State housing committee vice chair Rep. Troy Hashimoto is authoring a bill that would take the eviction process out of the courtroom by first requiring tenants and landlords to attend mediation through a designated community mediation center.

“This will help to force the landlord and tenant to actually talk to possibly negotiate to come to terms with some type of an agreement,” said Hashimoto.

Representative Hashimoto says the state can’t legislate bad actors out of the moratorium, which UHERO says has happened in only 2% of late rent cases. He recommends that Gov. Ige drop the state’s eviction moratorium so the CDC’s can take precedence.

“That has some type of criteria for individuals who want to utilize an eviction moratorium because you know they have income restrictions,” Rep. Hashimoto said. “There are criteria that you cannot pay in the CDC moratorium. I think that it applies a little better to to people who are actually in need, versus those who just don’t want to pay their rent.”

Currently, the state’s moratorium is set to expire on April 13, while the CDC’s is scheduled to expire March 31. Rep. Hashimoto believes the mediation bill will compliment the CDC’s moratorium.

“The CDC moratorium is probably applying to most individuals because the income requirement for a single individual is $99,000,” Rep. Hashimoto said. “So anyone $99,000 and below, they’ll be covered by the CDC moratorium. Anyone above that will be applied to our bill which would would mean that those who make more than $100,000 will have to go through that force mediation. If the mediation doesn’t work, then they can go through the eviction moratorium process.”

$200 million in federal rental assistance is coming to the state, which Rep. Hashimoto expects to be made available by the counties in the next month to month and a half.

For now, the landlord is stuck trying to find ways to pay his mortgage and his tenant’s utilities.

“We’re still trying to make it through each month ourselves and then to have this huge loss, it’s devastating on our part,” said the landlord.

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