Breaking a Lease in Hawaii

Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Hawaii, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by Hawaii law to make reasonable effort to rerent.

Before we address the legally acceptable reasons to get out a lease early without penalty, it’s important to know the notice requirements in Hawaii to end a tenancy in general.

Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Hawaii

In Hawaii, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. Tenants are required to provide notice for the following lease terms:

  • Notice to terminate a week-to-week lease. 10 days (§521-71(d)).
  • Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 28 days’ notice in writing (§521-71(b)).

Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Hawaii

There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Hawaii without penalty. We’ll go through each of them below.

1. Early Termination Clause

Some modern lease agreements may provide specific terms that would allow a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee. Read over the lease and look for language that outlines agreed-upon terms for ending the lease before the end of the fixed period, such as the amount of the fee (i.e. equal to 2 month’s rent) and the amount of notice required (i.e. 30 days).

If a lease agreement contains an early termination clause, before executing it and paying the penalty fee, read further to learn about other conditions that, if met, would not require a penalty fee to be paid.

2. Active Military Duty

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) helps protect active service members who are relocated due to deployment or permanent change of station. The protection begins on the date of entering duty and ends between 30-90 days after the date of discharge.

To break a lease in accordance with the relief act, a tenant must:

  • Prove the lease was signed before entering active duty 
  • Prove they will remain on active duty for at least the next 90 days
  • Deliver a written notice to the landlord (example, page 2), accompanied by a copy of the orders to deploy / PCS or a letter from their commanding officer stating their pending deployment.

With that said, the lease does not terminate immediately. Once the notice is delivered, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the beginning of the next rent period. So for example, if the notice was delivered on the 23rd of March, and the rent is due on the 1st of each month, the earliest the lease can terminate is May 1st (meaning, rent is still due for the month of April).

NOTE

In Hawaii, the term “servicemember” means a member of the armed forces, commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard.

3. Unit is Uninhabitable

Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Hawaii is no different.

If those standards are not met, proper notice is given by the tenant and the repairs/fixes are still not made within the allowable time period, a tenant would be considered “constructively evicted”. As a result, the obligations of the tenant under the lease are no longer required, given that the landlord has not met their own responsibilities under the Hawaii landlord-tenant law.

Landlords must maintain the premises to protect a tenant’s safety and health. Landlords must comply with city and county ordinances and state laws regarding housing conditions. Hawaii landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following examples (§521-42):

  • Compliance. With all applicable building and housing laws materially affecting health and safety
  • Repairs. Make all repairs and arrangements necessary to put and keep the premises in a habitable condition
  • Common Areas. Keep common areas of multi-dwelling unit premises in a clean and safe condition
  • Maintenance. Maintain all electrical, plumbing, and other facilities and appliances supplied by the landlord in good working order and condition, subject to reasonable wear and tear
  • Trash. Except for single-family homes, provide and maintain appropriate receptacles and conveniences for the removal of normal amounts of garbage, and arrange for their frequent removal
  • Water. Except for single-family homes, or where the building is not required by law to be equipped for the purpose, provide for the supplying of running water as reasonably required by the tenant

4. Landlord Harassment or Privacy Violation

If the action is serious enough, harassment by a landlord or their violation of a tenant’s privacy may be enough justification for relieving a tenant of their obligations of the lease.

  • Landlord entry. Hawaii requires landlords to provide a two-day notice, and entry is allowed only at reasonable times (§521-53(b)). If your landlord repeatedly violates your rights to privacy or does removes windows or doors, turns off your utilities, or changes the locks, you would be considered “constructively evicted,” as described above.
  • Changing the locks. In Hawaii, a landlord cannot lock out a tenant and is punishable by two month’s rent or free occupancy (§521-63(c)).

Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Hawaii

The below reasons are generally not enough justification (on their own) to release a tenant from the obligation of their lease term, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.

  • They bought a house
  • They are relocating for a new job or school
  • They are upgrading or downgrading
  • They are moving in with a partner
  • They are moving to be closer to family

Since state landlord-tenant laws vary, the following reasons may legally permit a tenant to terminate their tenancy early in other states but are not applicable in Hawaii:

  • Violation of the lease agreement. If a landlord violates the terms of the lease agreement, it may be enough justification to break the lease and relieve the tenant from their own obligations (i.e. illegally raising the rent during the fixed period).
  • Illegal contract. In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal and as a result, is generally not enforceable.
  • Domestic violence. Many states protect tenants who are victims of domestic violence such as early termination rights. If you are confronting a domestic violence situation and want to move, check with local law enforcement regarding laws that may apply in domestic violence situations.
  • Mandatory disclosures. Many state and local laws require landlords to disclose documentation, policies, or specific unit information to tenants prior to moving in. Disclosure laws typically impose heavy fines or legal ramifications to landlords if they are not followed. In rare cases, they contain penalty provisions that may allow you to break your lease.
  • Senior citizen or health issue. Some states offer age or health-related lease-breaking arrangements that permit early lease termination.

Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.

Landlord’s Responsibility to Rerent in Hawaii

Hawaii state law does require landlords to take reasonable steps to rerent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease. This is referred to as the landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages”. This means that if you leave your lease early and your landlord rerents the unit before your lease ends, then the rent received from the new tenant will apply to your debt.

In Hawaii (§521-70(d)) your landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit instead of charging you for the total remaining rent due under the lease. If your landlord rerents the property quickly, all you’ll be responsible for is the amount of time the unit was vacant. The tenant is liable to the landlord for the lesser of the following amounts: the entire rent due for the remainder of the term or all rent accrued during the period reasonably necessary to re-rent the dwelling unit at the fair rental, plus the difference between such fair rent and the rent agreed to in the prior rental agreement and a reasonable commission for the renting of the dwelling unit.

Keep in mind, not all landlords are aware of their duty to mitigate. If your landlord demands payment for the remaining balance of your lease, you may want to notify them of your state’s law.

TIP

Hawaii tenants who break their lease early without proper justification should still plan on losing at least one month’s rent, even though the landlord has a responsible to rerent. In Hawaii and other states where the law requires the landlord to make a reasonable effort to rerent, judges in civil courts commonly award landlords with at least one month’s rent, no matter how quickly the unit is rented.

Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Hawaii

If your lease does not prohibit subletting, then you are in the clear to do so. However, your lease might contain a clause requiring you to obtain your landlord’s approval prior to subletting. To get landlord approval you will want to send them a letter through certified mail, with a return receipt requested, outlining the terms of the sublet lease agreement. Certified mail is the only proof of delivery that most courts will accept in case you need proof that you notified your landlord.

The letter should include the following information:

  • Sublet term
  • Name of proposed subtenant or assignee
  • The permanent home address of proposed subtenant or assignee
  • Your reason for subletting or leaving permanently
  • Your new address during the sublease if applicable
  • The written consent of any co‑tenant
  • A copy of the proposed sublease

If your landlord rejects your request, know that they can only refuse the proposed subtenant based on legitimate factors. The law says your landlord cannot unreasonably refuse your sublet.

NOTE

In Hawaii, subletting is allowed, unless otherwise agreed to in the lease. A lease may also provide that the tenant’s right to sublet is subject to the consent of the landlord. (§521-37)

Additional Resources for Hawaii Tenants & Landlords: