In Hawaii, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, Hawaii varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. Hawaii law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in Hawaii
Landlord Responsibilities. Hawaii holds its landlords responsible for maintaining the health and safety of their units, even when they are occupied. These health and safety standards are based upon the providing and maintaining of “essential” amenities, including the following.
- Adequate plumbing
- Safe electrical wiring, outlets, and lighting
- Sanitation facilities
These requirements apply to all types of housing covered by Hawaii’s warranty of habitability, including single- and multi-family dwellings as well as condos. However, landlords of multi-family dwellings are also required to provide and maintain these following amenities for their units to be considered “habitable”:
- Hot and cold running water
- A trash can (for garbage removal purposes)
Tenants in Hawaii are entitled to live in a safe and hospitable environment as facilitated by their landlord. As such, they may request repairs to any of these essential amenities. If such a request is filed, a landlord in Hawaii has 15 days to remedy the issue. Otherwise, an affected tenant may request alternative temporary housing or an opportunity to break off their lease.
Tenant Responsibilities. Hawaii tenants are required to keep their unit “reasonably clean,” to the extent that its condition does not risk permanent physical damage and does not put other tenant’s safety at risk. If a landlord observes an issue that impacts this cleanliness standard, they may request (in writing) that their tenant promptly resolve the issue. The tenant then has 10 days to cure the issue or risk charges against their security deposit (if not outright eviction).
Hawaii tenants are also empowered to take “alternative action” against their landlord in specific situations. For example, 1 week after a local health department provides notice to a landlord of a warranty of habitability infraction, a tenant may repair the issue on their own and deduct the cost from an upcoming rent payment. Tenants may also withhold rent entirely in some situations, but only after following this procedure.
Evictions in Hawaii
Most evictions in Hawaii must be filed with a cause in order for a court to uphold its necessity. These are several of the most common reasons an eviction might be justified under Hawaii’s statutory code:
- Nonpayment of rent – If a tenant in Hawaii fails to pay rent (even after any applicable grace period), their landlord may provide them with a 5-Day Notice to Pay in writing. If the terms of this notice are not met, then the landlord may proceed with eviction by filing a Complaint for Summary Possession.
- Violation of lease terms – If a tenant in Hawaii violates one or more terms of their lease, their landlord must give them an opportunity to remedy the issue by providing a 10-Day Notice explaining the observed violation. This notice can be served in person, posted to the tenant’s door, or delivered to an intermediary. If the notice’s terms are not met, then the landlord may proceed with eviction by filing a Complaint for Summary Possession.
- Illegal Acts – Hawaii provides landlords with the power to determine what illegal actions justify eviction from their rental property. In such instances, landlords only need to provide a 5-Day Notice to Quit before initiating a formal eviction. However, if the activity in question can cause harm to the property or its inhabitants, the landlord may immediately terminate the lease and evict the tenant without prior notice.
Evictions without a lease. When a tenant in Hawaii rents from a landlord without entering into a lease agreement, they are still entitled to some degree of advance notice if that landlord intends to evict them. In fact, month-to-month renters without a lease in Hawaii are entitled to 45 days of advance notice under these circumstances. Meanwhile, week-to-week renters are entitled to 10 days of advance notice.
Hawaii also provides special provisions for evicting tenants with and without a lease when their landlord intends to destroy the property or convert it to a condo or vacation housing. In these cases, the landlord must provide all affected tenants with 120 days of advance notice to their intent.
Illegal Evictions. Hawaii forbids landlords from seeking or carrying out evictions that are considered chiefly retaliatory. Specifically, a landlords eviction order may be invalidated if it is determined that they sought such action in retaliation for a tenant reporting a health or safety violation to the appropriate government authority. Also, Hawaii tenants cannot be evicted for using medical marijuana so long as they are licensed to possess said substance and the unit is not smoke-free.
Hawaii’s laws do not provide full assurance that protected class tenants are shielded from discriminatory evictions. However, it is likely that a civil rights complaint filed with the state’s Public Housing Authority would be accepted and pursued due to the state’s wide-reaching fair housing protections.
Security Deposits in Hawaii
Landlords in Hawaii must abide by the following restrictions placed upon security deposits, including how they are collected, maintained, and redistributed:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Hawaii landlords cannot request a security deposit amount that is valued at greater than the value of a single month’s rent. This sum does not include any legally requested pet deposits for non-service animals.
- Interest and Maintenance – Hawaii’s current statutory code does not require landlords operating in the state to maintain their security deposits in any specific kind of banking institution or account type (such as an escrow). Along the same lines, Hawaii landlords need not maintain interest on their collected deposits. If they do, however, Hawaii landlords are not obliged to pass on that interest to the applicable tenant.
- Time Limit for Return – After the conclusion of a lease, landlords in Hawaii have 14 days to return any and all remaining security deposit funds in their possession. This includes instances where deductions are necessary. In those cases, the remaining funds must be provided along with an itemized list that explains the reasons for the deductions. Tenants may contest these deductions for up to a year afterwards.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If the 14 day time frame passes without the appropriate security deposit funds being returned, Hawaii landlords forfeit their claim to the deposit in full. However, Hawaii’s laws do not clearly explain who, if anyone, then obtains a claim on said security deposits.
- Allowable Deductions – Landlords in Hawaii may make deductions from a tenant’s security deposit for any of the following reasons:
- Repairs for accidental or intentional damage
- Unpaid or late rent
- Key replacement (including door fobs and garage door openers)
- Repairs for pet damage
- Repayment for unpaid or late utility bills
Lease Termination in Hawaii
Notice Requirements. Hawaii does not require tenants to provide any amount of notice when they intend to break off a fixed end-date lease. However, the following types of leases warrant the associated amount of notice in writing:
- Week-to-Week Lease – 10 Days’ Notice
- Month-to-Month Lease – 28 Days’ Notice
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. Many tenants in Hawaii who need to break off a lease early choose to do so by activating an early termination clause in their lease. However, if their lease does not include this kind of provision, they may choose instead to pursue one of the following legal justifications for breaking a lease early:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Landlords in Hawaii are required to maintain their responsibilities under the state’s warranty of habitability at all times. If they fail to uphold these duties after the applicable repair periods, then a tenant may consider themselves “constructively evicted.” This allows them to break off their lease because their landlord has not maintained their side of the lease agreement.
- Landlord Harassment – Landlords may never use their right of entry to violate a tenant’s privacy. This includes entering a rented unit without providing proper notice (2 days in most cases) or entering a rented unit at an “unreasonable” time. These types of actions may constitute harassment that enables a tenant to unilaterally terminate their lease.
If a tenant in Hawaii is successful in terminating their lease early, they may still need to pay rent on their unit until their former landlord finds a new tenant (depending on the old lease’s terms). However, the landlord in question must make a reasonable effort to re-rent the unit in a timely manner under Hawaii state law. Moreover, the landlord in question must take any action that allows them to financially “mitigate damages” from your lease termination.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Hawaii
Rent control & increases. Currently, Hawaii (nor any of its cities) maintains any kind of “rent control.” As such, landlords in the state are free to raise the rent as much as they deem necessary. However, when initiating any kind of rent increase, landlords must provide 45 days of advance notice to their month-to-month tenants and 15 days of advance notice to tenants with leasing periods smaller than a month. These notices must always be made in writing.
Rent related fees. Under Hawaii state law, landlords are able to charge late fees when a tenant fails to pay rent on time. However, the state does not limit the value of these fees, in total or on a per diem basis. Hawaii also allows landlords to charge bounced check fees, though the extent of these allowances is not currently clear. On average, though, landlords in this state charge around $30 when a check is returned to them for insufficient funds.
Housing Discrimination in Hawaii
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. Hawaii’s civil rights laws allow individuals from several additional protected classes to file discrimination complaints against their landlord. In addition to those classes outlined in the federal Fair Housing Act, Hawaii currently prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of these following characteristics:
- Marital status
- HIV status
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. Hawaii Civil Rights Commission currently outlines several noteworthy activities that are often associated with discriminatory business practices. If a landlord is found to participating in any of the following activities with regards to a protected class, they may open themselves to liability from state regulators:
- Printing or circulating advertisements that explicitly or implicitly imply an intent to discriminate
- Representing a dwelling as unavailable when it is, in fact, available
- Refusing to accept or transmit a bona-fide offer to buy, rent or lease a unit
- Using forms or asking questions that directly or indirectly allow for discrimination
- “Steering” applicants to rent, buy, or lease in a certain neighborhood for the purposes of discrimination or segregation
- Refusing to rent or sell housing to an otherwise qualified applicant
- Refusing to accept reasonable accommodations requested by a tenant
Currently, Hawaii does not post public estimates relating to penalties for discriminatory housing practices. However, it does allow tenants on each of its major islands to file reports over the phone with a local office of the Hawaii Human Rights Commission. These phone numbers can be found here.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Hawaii
Landlords and tenants in Hawaii should also learn about these following legal statutes. This because they are among the most disputed issues that come up in the course of a landlord-tenant leasing relationship.
Landlord Entry. Landlords in Hawaii are required to provide at least 2 days of advance notice to tenants when they intend to enter their occupied unit. This includes instances where the landlord intents to make a requested repair or intends to show the unit to a prospective renter. Hawaii’s statutory guidelines on this matter do not indicate what medium this notice must be provided in (written, digital, or by word of mouth).
When an emergency threatens the inhabitants of an occupied unit, a Hawaii landlord may enter the premises without any advance notice. However, abusing this or any other right to entry may result in harassment charges being leveled against the offending landlord.
Small Claims Court. Hawaii’s small claims court system may be utilized by landlords and tenants alike to dispute claims valued at up to $5,000. This does not include eviction cases, though, because those are handled by the state’s district courts. Hawaii’s small claims court also places a 6 year statute of limitations on all landlord-tenant disputes, regardless of whether they involve a written or oral contract.
Mandatory Disclosures. Under the current Hawaii statutory code, landlords must make certain types of disclosures relating to the safety and ownership of the property in question. Specifically, landlords in Hawaii must provide the following disclosures before any new lease can become active:
- Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
- Authorized Authorities. Hawaii landlords must provide written documentation to their tenants that list the property owner for their specific unit. This kind of disclosure must list the name and address for these individuals, as well as any individuals empowered to act on their behalf.
- General Excise Tax Number. Hawaii landlords must provide their general excise tax number to all tenants so that they may file for a low-income tax credit through the state.
Changing the Locks. Hawaii’s current laws do not indicate whether or not tenants may change their own locks, either with or without their landlords permission. However, these same laws imply that landlords may not take this action without their tenants permission. This is due to the state’s clear prohibition on lockouts. In fact, landlords who are found to have performed a lockout may be fined an amount equal to 2 months’ rent or be required to provide 2 months of free occupancy to the affected tenant.
Hawaii Landlord-Tenant Resources
As you continue to learn your responsibilities as a landlord or tenant under Hawaii’s laws, these following digital resources will help you expand your knowledge and discover the assistance you need at this time:
Handbook for the Hawaii Residential Landlord-Tenant Code – Published by the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection, this guide breaks down nearly every provision within the state’s landlord-tenant law and applies it to both parties. It also provides a helpful Q&A section that can provide insight into issues that fall between the legal lines.
Fair Housing Policy– This page, compiled by the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, breaks down which classes are protected by state law when it comes to housing. This page can also act as a jumping-off point for individuals looking to file a complaint because it lists phone numbers for the Authority’s offices on each island.
What Should I Do If I have a Landlord/Tenant Problem? – This blog concisely details the steps a landlord or tenant should take if they have a dispute with their counterpart. This includes resolving the dispute through negotiations as well as taking the dispute to small claims court.