A prospective tenant should always inspect a rental unit carefully to see if it meets with the tenant’s needs and expectations. All damage and problems needing correction should be identified with the landlord and noted in the rental contract, or the landlord may hold the new tenant responsible for existing problems later. The landlord’s intentions to make repairs or take other corrective actions should also be included in the rental contract, as well as a timetable for these actions.

A tenant’s relationship with the landlord may become an important factor in any rental situation. Knowing this, a prospective tenant should consider the type of person the landlord is before deciding to rent. Temperament is important. And whether the landlord is a particularly finicky individual about details is important, especially if the prospective tenant is very “laid back” and expects the landlord to be just as casual.

A written rental agreement is always recommended, whether the period of rental is month-to-month or for one year. The tenant should read the rental agreement and accompanying documents, such as house rules, carefully. The tenant’s rights, rental conditions and restrictions, designated parking space, and all verbal promises should be clearly stated in the contract. All blank spaces should be filled in, and both the landlord and the tenant should retain signed and dated copies of this agreement.

Along with or included in the rental agreement should be a written inventory detailing the condition and contents of the unit, including the state of cleanliness and any damages or conditions needing correcting. If the inventory listing is separate from the rental contract, signed and dated copies of the inventory should also be retained by both landlord and tenant.

A security deposit is money deposited by the tenant with the landlord to pay for such things as tenant damages to the property, failure to pay rent or cleaning costs because the tenant did not leave the unit at the termination of the rental in as clean a condition as it was at the start (except for normal wear and tear.) Under Hawaii law, the landlord may collect a security deposit equal to but not more than one month’s rent. For example, at the start of a rental costing $600 per month, the landlord may collect the first month’s rent of $600 and another $600 as the security deposit. The total collected will be $1200. It is advisable to pay the rent and security deposit by check, rather than cash, because the canceled check will act as a backup receipt. Tenants should ask for itemized receipts for all payments made.

If emergency repairs are needed to maintain sanitary and habitable conditions, including the repair of major appliances and necessary facilities, the landlord must start repairs within three business days from the time of notification, unless the repairs needed are the result of tenant misuse. If, for reasons beyond the landlord’s control, repairs cannot begin within three business days, the landlord must inform the tenant of the reasons for the delay and set a reasonable, tentative date on which repairs will begin.

If non-emergency repairs are needed, the tenant should notify the landlord in writing. The landlord should begin making repairs within twelve business days after receiving the notice and have the repairs completed as soon as possible. If the repairs cannot be started within twelve days, the landlord should notify the tenant and give an expected date for the beginning of repairs. If the landlord cannot uphold the second date for starting repairs, then the tenant may make the repairs and deduct up to $500 from the following month’s rent for the cost of the repairs. And the tenant must provide the landlord with copies of all receipts connected with the repair work.

If the landlord keeps a tenant’s security deposit at the end of the tenancy, the tenant must be notified in writing as to the reasons for retaining the deposit, and be given the itemized costs for such services as cleaning or repairs that were required, with copies of all receipts received. The balance of the security deposit, after the deductions, must be returned to the tenant no later than fourteen days after the rental agreement is terminated. If the landlord does not notify the tenant within fourteen days after the termination of the rental agreement that a part or all of the deposit is to be retained, then the landlord must return all of the security deposit. This action will not prevent the landlord from suing the tenant at a later date for damages caused by the tenant.

If you have any questions, call 586-2634 (Monday through Friday, except holidays, from 8:00 a.m. to 12 noon) if you are on Oahu. If you are on a neighbor island, call these toll-free numbers:

From Kauai:
274-3141, then 6-2634, then press the # sign

From Maui:
984-2400, then press the # sign

From Big Island:
974-4000, then 6-2634, then press the # sign

From Molokai/Lanai:
1-800-468-4644, then 6-2634, then press the # sign

For information on how to obtain a landlord-tenant handbook click here .

To return to the DCCA web site click here .