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by Ashley Whitehead, student writer


If you’re thinking about renting in Hawai‘i, or already renting, you should know your rights under the law. Very few renters know their rights as tenants, and very few tenants understand landlord’s rights.
According to the Hawai‘i Residential Landlord-Tenant Code, rental agreements between landlords and tenants can be written or oral, and still be legal, but tenants need to protect themselves as well and should always get agreements in writing. Written agreements can be from week-to-week, month-to-month, six months, a year, or whatever amount of time the tenant and landlord agree on. If there is any change in to a rental agreement, both tenant and landlord should write the change into the existing agreement and both should sign or initial the change.

It is always a good idea to keep a copy of everything in writing, because the written agreement miscommunication can be avoided. If people forget what they agreed to, they can always go back to the original agreement to see what both parties agreed upon.

Oral agreements, according to the code book, are normally a month-to-month tenancy. Under the code, an oral agreement may not exceed one year in duration. While discussing arrangements orally, both parties must be clear about what they can or cannot do. For example, if a tenant is responsible for the lawn, the landlord should specify what they have to do: water the lawn, mow the lawn, fertilize it, weed it, all of these, or none?

If the landlord fails to have an apartment ready at the agreed time, then the tenant doesn’t have to pay rent until he or she moves in. Also, the tenant can terminate the lease if he or she is unable to move in. If the tenant wants to wait until the apartment is ready, the tenant must notify the landlord. The tenant should save all receipts as they may be able to recover reasonable damages from the landlord for alternative housing. The tenant can either file a lawsuit, or eventually accept the unit by negotiating a reduction of the rent. Receipts must be presented to the landlord.

If a condition exist in the apartment that is not the tenant’s fault, and it deprives the tenant of enjoyment under the agreement, the tenant may notify the landlord in writing about the situation and can terminate the rental agreement if the problem isn’t fixed within one week. Notice doesn’t need to be given if the problem poses a threat to health or safety. If the problem is caused by landlord negligence, the tenant may recover any damages caused by the condition. Make sure to save all receipts.

If a landlord locks a tenant out an apartment for any length of time without cause or without a court order, the tenant may recover possessions and terminate the rental agreement. If the tenant wants to stay at the apartment, they may recover two months rent, or free occupancy for two months, and legal suit costs.

If there is any damage to a apartment from a serious or dangerous cause such as a fire or flood, the tenant may leave immediately and must notify the landlord within one week of moving. The agreement ends the day the tenant moves out. If the tenant doesn’t notify the landlord, then the landlord can collect rent until the day the landlord finds out the tenant abandoned the building.

For more information, call the landlord-tenant hotline at 586-2634. If you feel your rights have been violated, call the Honolulu Office of Legal Aid at 536-4302.



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