Imus are legal but some uses require permits
What are the guidelines on having an imu in your property? My neighbor has an imu about 30 feet away from the property line and likes to cook in it two or three times a month. The problem is that, most times, the smoke goes directly into my home even with the windows closed! Another concern I have is they also use this imu as a trash-burning pit. I also suspect the food being cooked is for fundraising. Is that legal?
Answer: There are several factors at play and you may have to check with both state and city agencies.
According to the city Department of Planning and Permitting, if the imu involved an excavation of more than 50 cubic yards, a grading permit is required.
If the structure is more than 30 inches high, a building permit is required.
Use of an imu for fundraisers may be permitted by the city as a "home occupation," said city administration spokesman Bill Brennan.
At the state level, the Department of Health's Clean Air Branch does not regulate imu fires.
"Imu fires are considered cooking and, therefore, are exempt from Clean Air rules," said department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.
However, while you can basically cook anywhere on your property, there are city fire code requirements.
That includes notifying the Honolulu Fire Department, at 523-4411, prior to lighting an imu fire.
No permit is required, just advance notice, because imus "generate a whole lot of smoke" and inevitably, calls about a fire start coming in, said Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada.
While the Health Department says the Fire Department will respond to calls about excessive smoke in residential areas, Tejada says that's a difficult area to deal with.
For example, the department sometimes will respond to a complaint only to find "there's not that much smoke," and that instead it's a matter in which "neighbors don't get along."
In a situation where a cooking fire generates a lot of smoke, "we might let (the cook) know it's a bad day to burn," Tejada said. But every situation is different and "the circumstances are dynamic," he said.
If the imu is used for burning trash, that would be illegal, because open burning is not allowed on Oahu, except under certain situations (see Kokua Line, May 23, 2005).
You can report open trash burning to the Clean Air Branch at 586-4200.
Meanwhile, Okubo said the Department of Health's Sanitation Branch oversees food establishments and food prepared for sale to the public. The state requires a permit to cook and sell perishable products for consumption.
If food cooked in the imu is sold to the public, your neighbor should have a permit.
The Sanitation Branch can be reached at 586-8020.
Complaints about the illegal sale of meat to the public can be reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Hawaii Office at 522-8011, Okubo said.
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered. E-mail to email@example.com
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