COVID-19 Landlord Tenant FAQs

Posted on Mar 30, 2020 in Main

Governor David Ige’s recent emergency proclamations concerning the coronavirus invoked special legal requirements applicable to Landlords and Tenants in Hawaii.

The Office of Consumer Protection has created FAQs pertaining to how these provisions impact their legal relationship. The guidance provided is current as of June 5, 2020 and may be subject to change per actions taken at the state and/or federal level. 

Landlord Tenant FAQs

I’m current on my rent, but my Landlord has informed me that I must vacate; can they do this?

No. Unless there is a material breach of the lease involving health or safety conditions or the premises are unfit for occupancy, a Landlord cannot currently require you to move. Governor David Ige’s State of Emergency Proclamation(s) automatically activates the provisions of section 127A-30(a)(2) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, which states, that “no Landlord shall terminate any tenancy for a residential dwelling unit in the area that is the subject of the proclamation…except for a breach of a material term of a rental agreement or lease, or if the unit is unfit for occupancy”.  Pursuant to Governor Ige’s Eighth Supplementary Proclamation, non-payment of rent is excluded from the exception.

How long will the special provisions of section 127A-30(a)(2) remain in effect?

A state of emergency terminates automatically sixty days after the issuance of a proclamation of a state of emergency or by a separate proclamation of the Governor, whichever occurs first. The date of termination may be extended by a new proclamation. Currently, the Proclamations are due to continue through June 30, 2020.

Do I still have to pay my rent?

Yes. You are still legally obligated to pay your rent.

What if I can’t pay my rent?

You should inform your Landlord if you are unable to pay your rent and explain why. Renters are advised to contact their landlords as soon as they can to talk through delayed or partial payment options. Any new agreement or understanding should be documented in writing, such as, in a letter or in an email. This should include how much the modified rent will be, how long that change in rent will last, and whether you will be expected to pay back any deferred payments.

Is any assistance available to help Landlords and Tenants reach an agreement or understanding on the rental agreement?

Yes. To help Landlords and Tenants negotiate realistic payment plans and maintain a positive working relationship, the Mediation Center of the Pacific, Inc. (MCP) has created a Rapid Response Mediation Program. Through videoconference, telephone or a secure online platform, Landlords and Tenants can work with an impartial mediator who will help them discuss a variety of options, such as, payment plans, temporary rent reduction, deferred payments, and other creative solutions. At this time, there is no cost to participate. Call MCP at 808-521-6767 between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to get the process started. More information about the program is accessible through MCP’s flyer here.

Can the Landlord evict me if I don’t pay my rent?

Governor Ige’s Eighth Supplemental Proclamation limits the ability of landlords to evict tenants based on the non-payment of rent.

Pursuant to the Proclamation, a landlord may not terminate any tenancy for a residential dwelling unit for a breach of a material term of a rental agreement or lease, resulting from a failure to pay all or any portion of the rent, maintenance fees, utility charges, taxes or other fees required.

The Proclamation also specifically suspends the law governing summary possessions contained in Chapter 666 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes. In particular, it prohibits a landlord from commencing, continuing, or prosecuting an action, to terminate any tenancy for a residential dwelling unit, for failure to pay all or any portion of the rent, maintenance fees, utility charges, taxes or other fees required for the residential dwelling unit.

The Hawaii Judiciary also has issued several orders that impact the ability of Landlords and their agents to use legal process to evict a Tenant, including those relating to matters for the non-payment of rent. The Judiciary has stated that most legal proceedings relating to summary possession or eviction have been postponed until after June 30, 2020.

I have already been served with an eviction notice; can I be evicted?

No. The latest Proclamation explicitly states that a landlord may not continue or prosecute an action to terminate a tenancy for a residential dwelling unit for a failure to pay all or any portion of the rent, maintenance fees, utility charges, taxes or other fees required for the residential dwelling unit. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Division of the Department of Public Safety, which often assists Landlords with the lawful removal of Tenants and their possessions, has stated that it will not be assisting anyone in the eviction process until further notice.

What if I have a Tenant who is dangerous, or is engaging in illegal activity?

If you believe a crime has been committed, please contact the police.

If a tenant has caused physical harm, bodily injury, or assault; has made threats of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault; or engaged in harassment as defined by law, a landlord may go to court to seek relief, including petitioning the court for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the tenant.

The Governor’s latest Proclamation does not prevent a landlord from initiating a summary possession action based on health or safety concerns which constitute a material breach of the agreement.

What if I have a Landlord who is dangerous, or is engaging in illegal activity?

If you believe a crime has been committed, please contact the police.

If a landlord has caused physical harm, bodily injury, or assault; has made threats of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault; or engaged in harassment as defined by law, a tenant may go to court to seek relief, including petitioning the court for a TRO against the landlord.

What if I have a Landlord who has locked me out or shut off my utilities?

If a landlord has illegally locked a tenant out of a residence or illegally shut off utilities, a tenant may go to court to seek relief, including petitioning the court for a TRO.

How do I go to court to try to get a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)?

Petitions for Temporary Restraining Orders may be filed at the State District Court Courthouse.
Please see the following link for information related to the district court in your jurisdiction:
https://cca.hawaii.gov/ocp/files/2020/03/Courthouses-Info-3.30.2020.pdf

Are the provisions of the Landlord Tenant Code still in effect?

The only provisions of the Landlord Tenant Code that have been suspended are those contained in Hawaii Revised Statutes sections 521-68 for the failure to pay rent and 521-71, which governs the termination of tenancy and the landlord’s remedies for holdover tenants. The remainder of the Landlord Tenant Code remains in effect.

Can a Landlord raise my rent?

No. Pursuant to section 127A-30 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes a Landlord is prohibited from increasing rent during the period of the state of emergency declared by the Governor.

Is a notice to increase rent before the issuance of the Proclamation still valid?

In the case of a residential dwelling unit, if rent increases were contained in a written instrument, such as, a lease, that was signed by the Tenant prior to the Proclamation, the increases may take place pursuant to the written instrument.

What if my rental is subject to a federal housing program?

Until July 26, 2020, property owners are prohibited from filing for eviction against or charging any fees for unpaid rent and fees to a tenant in properties with federally guaranteed loans or participating in federal housing programs. Property owners must also issue a notice to tenants to vacate 30 days before an eviction and the notice to vacate cannot be issued during this 120-day period.

This protection covers properties that receive federal subsidies such as public housing, Section 8 assistance, USDA rural housing programs, and Low Income Housing Tax Credits, as well as properties that have a mortgage issued or guaranteed by a federal agency (including FHA and USDA) or Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Additionally, owners of multifamily buildings with federal loans in forbearance may not evict tenants for unpaid rent or charge late fees or penalties until the loan exits forbearance.

Renters seeking information on whether they are covered by the moratorium should contact Legal Aid Society of Hawaii or a HUD approved housing counselor. You can find the nearest housing counselor here https://www.consumerfinance.gov/find-a-housing-counselor/ or by calling (800) 569-4287.

More information on lookup tools for renters interested in checking if a property is financed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac is available through the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Where can I find more information about Hawaii’s Landlord Tenant code?

More information is available at https://cca.hawaii.gov/ocp/landlordtenant.

Who can I contact if I have questions about the Landlord Tenant Code?

The public can call the Office of Consumer Protection’s Landlord-Tenant Information Center at 808-586-2634. The line is open from 8:00 a.m. – 12 noon Monday through Friday, except State holidays.

Are there other agencies or resources available to assist the public?

The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii is readily available to help with questions on this issue. They also have compiled a range of resources on various important topics at https://www.legalaidhawaii.org/housing-covid-19.html.

Legal Aid Society of Hawaii can also be contacted at 808-536-4302 or 1-800-499-4302 (neighbor islands).