Tenants who have received eviction notices from Gensiro Kawamoto gathered yesterday in the Small Business Hawaii office to discuss their options for fighting or delaying the evictions with attorney Myles Breiner and state Sen. Sam Slom. Collette Jensen, left, Mike Dowell, Robyn Oshita-Vranesevic, Bob Swallow and Leslie Wall are some of the tenants.

Kawamoto tenants
seek legal recourse

Leslie Wall walks with a cane due to multiple sclerosis and lives on a fixed income of Social Security and disability benefits. But she's not angry at Japanese billionaire Gensiro Kawamoto for evicting her just before Christmas.

All she wants is more time than the 45 days she's been given to find an affordable rental with no stairs, amid high prices and historically tight supply of apartments.

"That's all I want. It's hard for me to get around and there's so much pressure now," she said.

Wall is one of several East Oahu residents who hope to bring their own pressure to bear on the mercurial Kawamoto, who sent 45-day eviction notices earlier this month to tenants of 27 homes that he owns, mainly in Hawaii Kai.

Kawamoto has said he plans to fix up the homes and possibly sell them.

But although he's given the requisite amount of notice under landlord-tenant laws, it was the last straw for some tenants who say they've had to deal with chronic disrepair at the homes and outright refusal by one Kawamoto property manager after another to address the problems.

Myles Breiner, an attorney advising the tenants, said they want Kawamoto to allow them more time to find new rentals or to offer to sell them the homes.

"The timing is terrible. A lot of these residents have children in school. What's going to happen to them if they're forced out of their homes?" Breiner said.

The timing of the evictions may mean Kawamoto is guilty of nothing more than a lack of Christmas cheer, but Breiner said he also may be in violation of landlord-tenant laws by failing to keep the homes livable.

Breiner said common problems include leaking roofs and faucets, dangerous electrical wiring and unsafe structures due to serious termite damage at many of the homes.

Breiner has told tenants to compile documentation on the problems to use as leverage against Kawamoto.

"Some of these homes have serious potential health problems that have been ignored throughout their tenancy," he said.

The affair marks the latest episode in Kawamoto's weird history of real estate investment in the islands. He first gained infamy in that late 1980s when he casually drove around buying dozens of Oahu residential properties. Two years ago, he expressed outrage when it was revealed that dozens of his local rental properties were in squalid shape, and he vowed to address the issue.

But Wall says that hasn't happened at the Portlock rental home she's lived in for nine years. She's personally footed the bill for two new dishwashers, repairs to screens, drapes, sliding doors and molding after Kawamoto's property managers were unresponsive.

Wall said Kawamoto has gone through several property managers in the past two years, and she blamed the unresponsiveness partly on the resulting lack of continuity.

"But sometimes they flat out said 'no'," Wall said.

Kawamoto this month blamed his property managers Map Vision for failing to keep up the homes. The company has declined comment.

Sixteen of the tenants met yesterday with Breiner and state Sen. Sam Slom. They plan to raise the issue with other local politicians including Gov. Linda Lingle, apparently hoping to follow the lead of Kawamoto tenants in California.

In 2002, Kawamoto announced plans to sell hundreds of northern California homes out from under their tenants, but the resulting outcry sparked court injunctions, revisions to landlord-tenant laws and the intervention of then-Gov. Gray Davis and the Japanese ambassador, and Kawamoto was forced to scale back the plan.

Breiner said an injunction halting the evictions might ultimately be considered.

"Yes, those are things we may want to do. But Kawamoto could have avoided all that collateral damage with a more 'kokua' attitude," Breiner said.

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