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Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Sunday, January 13, 2002


Landlords who withhold
deposits violate codes


Question: I moved out of a house in Wahiawa about three months ago that I had been renting for over two years. I had signed a lease for 12 months and was paying month-to-month after the first 12 months. I paid a full month's rent (over $1,000) as a security deposit. I have yet to get the deposit from the owner, who now lives in California.

Last week, I was informed that the company I work for will be laying off most of the employees as a result of the drop in tourism. I have been offered a job with relatives on the mainland, but I cannot get myself and my children there without the security deposit back. I have talked to him, but he keeps putting me off. He stated that he is not subject to any landlord-tenant laws because he has only one rental unit.

Is there any city or state office that I can take my complaint to? How long can a landlord hold a security deposit after a tenant moves out? Is the landlord required to reveal the name of the financial institution and the account where the security deposit is held?

My point is that he did not document any damage or loss to the house when we inspected it together and never sent anything stating why he will not return my deposit. I have a feeling he did not deposit it into a separate account and now does not have the money to pay me.

Answer: You should call the state Office of Consumer Protection's Residential Landlord-Tenant line, at 586-2634 on Oahu (or from the neighbor islands, toll-free 1-800-513-8886), to find out what your rights are. You can also get information online at www.state.hi.us/dcca/ocpnew/landlord.html.

From your account, the landlord appears to have violated many provisions of the Landlord-Tenant Code.

Under the code, it doesn't matter how many units a landlord may have. If the landlord resides outside the state or island, he is supposed to, in writing, designate an agent who lives on the same island as the rental unit to act on his behalf.

Regarding security deposits, if your landlord kept your deposit after your agreement ended, you should have been notified in writing as to the reasons for retaining part or all of it. You should also have been given an itemized list of the deductions, along with the cost of each deduction, and written evidence such as copies of receipts, estimates or invoices for each deduction made.

The balance of the security deposit, after the deductions, should have been returned to you no later than 14 days after your rental agreement ended.

If your landlord did not notify you within 14 days after the termination of the rental agreement that a part or all of the deposit was to be retained, then he should have returned the entire security deposit.

Under the code, a landlord can use the security deposit for unpaid rent, failure to return keys, cleaning costs if a tenant did not leave the unit in as clean a condition as it was at the start of the tenancy, and for accidental or intentional damages to the unit caused by a tenant.

However, a landlord cannot make deductions for normal wear and tear, but can keep the entire security deposit when a tenant "wrongfully" quits the dwelling unit. Wrongfully quit is defined as a tenant who is absent from the unit for 20 continuous days or more without paying rent and without written notice to the landlord.

There is no requirement that the tenant be informed as to where a security deposit is deposited.

All this said, your only recourse in getting back the deposit may have to be via the courts. The state Office of Consumer Protection does not investigate landlord-tenant disputes.

Officials there say you can file a claim in Small Claims Court no later than one year after the termination of the rental agreement, or hire an attorney to pursue legal action.

You can purchase a copy of the Landlord-Tenant handbook for $2 at the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Kamamalu Building, 1010 Richards St., Administrative Services Office, Cashier, on the third floor. The handbook may also be purchased by mail.

Q: I am concerned about a tree hanging above the entrance to the second Pali Highway tunnel, Kailua-bound. It's just above the entrance, about 50 feet up, and looks like it's about to fall onto passing cars. I called state highways, but I don't see anything being done. It's an immediate hazard to any cars passing on the right-hand lane, Kailua-bound.

A: We passed on your concern to the state Department of Transportation back in December and was told there were four small trees that were "loose."

The highway staff was to meet with the tree-trimming contractor to take care of the problem.

Auwe

To the people who rip-off kids selling the newspaper -- giving them a handful of change and zooming off before the kids can count the change and find out they have been short-changed. These kids have to make up the shortage themselves. They could be doing something else but have chosen to earn a little money themselves. Hats off to the parents who encourage and support these children. -- No Name

Mahalo

To the nice young man who helped my mother with a stalled car on Harding Avenue in Kaimuki on Sunday, Dec. 30. It's nice to know that there are still some good Samaritans out there. -- L.D.





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