Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Getting unwanted tenants
out requires specific steps

Question: I'm a landlord and need some information. Do I need to go to court to evict tenants who haven't paid their rent for a while? I've sent them notices.

Answer: You may need to go to District Court to boot out the nonpaying tenants, but you have to follow specific steps first to protect your rights.

Call the state Office of Consumer Protection's residential landlord-tenant line, 586-2634, from 8 a.m. to noon weekdays to get more information on your rights. You can call Consumer Dial -- 587-1234 -- to hear recorded messages on various landlord-tenant issues, or get information online at

On the topic of failure to pay rent, the Office of Consumer Protection says the law does not provide a tenant with a grace period for late payments.

If payment is not made by an agreed-upon date, a landlord is obligated to send a letter to the tenant, stating the late payment and allowing at least five business days from the day the tenant receives the notice to pay the entire balance due.

The letter also should state that if the overdue rent is not paid within that time period, the rental agreement will be terminated immediately. Once the rental agreement is terminated, the tenant must vacate the unit immediately -- a landlord does not have to provide the tenant with additional time to vacate.

As a landlord, you are "encouraged" to send the notice via certified mail, return receipt requested, as proof that you did give proper notification. If the tenant cannot be notified via mail or in person, the landlord can post the written notice "in a conspicuous place on the dwelling unit."

If the tenant remains beyond the rental termination date without paying the rent, he becomes a "holdover tenant." In that event he is liable for double the rent, calculated daily, every day he stays.

However, the law prohibits the landlord from locking the tenant out or turning off the utilities in an effort to force the tenant out.

The landlord has 60 days in which to file a claim in District Court for summary possession or eviction. This will entail a $100 filing fee plus a $10 surcharge, plus a sheriff's fee. For more information on filing a claim, call the District Court at 538-5151.

If a landlord does not sue to evict the tenant within the 60 days and there is no new rental agreement, a month-to-month tenancy at the rent stated in the previous agreement is created.

Under a month-to-month tenancy, either the landlord or the tenant may terminate the rental agreement, provided proper notice is given. It is not necessary to give any reason for the termination.

Q: What does the Hawaii Landlord/Tenant Code say about a tenant of an apartment, or any person in the tenant's household, who is "suspected" of being involved in drug-related criminal activity? Can the landlord terminate the lease or evict the tenant based on "suspicion" and/or reports from the tenant's neighbor?

A: There is nothing in the code that specifically addresses illicit drug activity.

However, the code does address the issue of unlawful use, according to a spokesman for the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP).

"If a tenant is engaging in conduct that constitutes an unlawful use of the premises, then a landlord would be within his rights to institute proceedings to get that tenant out," he said. However, what then arises is the issue of proof.

"You have to have proof," the OCP official cautioned. With "proof, then you could terminate the tenancy like any other breach of the contract by going to court and having a summary position."

The landlord, of course, could just go to authorities with either suspicions or proof, but that might take more time than one would expect, the OCP spokesman said.

Also, if it turns out that the tenant was not engaged in any illegal activity, the landlord may be opening himself up to lawsuit, he said. "You have to be really careful. That could constitute defamation, and that's a whole other nightmare for the landlord."

Meanwhile, not doing anything could backfire in other ways.

The Honolulu Police Department's Narcotics and Vice Division "serves forfeiture warnings on property owners when there is an arrest for certain kinds of crimes on the premises," said Cecilia Chang, a community prosecutor for the city prosecutor's office. "They expect cooperation from the property owner in cleaning out the drug house."

"Don't neglect" the signs of any illegal activity, Chang advises. "Don't let it slide."


To the nice folks at the Waikiki Post Office on Saratoga Road, especially Duke, who sells stamps and specialty items. He is a treasure who never fails to have a smile. The rest of the people at the four desk openings are always helpful and nice and manage a smile under the most trying situations. And the back door where there is package pickup is also well manned. It makes standing in line almost a pleasure. -- Arnold


Useful phone numbers

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.
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