The Hawaii Landlord Tenant Code

The cost to rent in Hawaii averages around $2,000 with studios averaging about $1,400 on Oahu and one-bedroom apartments averaging around $1,900 in Honolulu. How much does it cost to rent in Kaneohe? A two-bedroom home averages about $2,500. 

Rent in Hawaii is one of the highest in the United States, so it is not surprising that many Hawaii residents will aspire to become landlords. While others will aspire to rent a piece of paradise to enjoy all Hawaii’s beauty and aloha. 

Aside from the business aspect, renting in Hawaii can also offer an opportunity to establish positive relationships between landlords and tenants. The aloha spirit often pervades in Hawaii homes, and transcends even landlord and tenant relationships. Often in Hawaii, landlords and tenants will become close friends, even like family members, as sharing one’s home is a part of the culture of Hawaii. 

However, there are times when the aloha spirit does not enter into rental relationships. Therefore, if you are planning on renting in Hawaii either as a tenant or a landlord, it is important to know that there are certain laws that help to protect both parties.

What are the Hawaii rental laws?

The Hawaii Residential Landlord-Tenant Code is the name of Chapter 521 of the Hawaii Revised Statues (HRS), which govern rental laws in Hawaii. The Code includes information on rental agreements, security deposits, repairs, lockouts, terminating rental agreements/tenancy, landlord and tenant obligations, and landlord and tenant remedies.

Hawaii Tenant Rights

In Hawaii, there are certain items that a tenant should expect when renting a property, which are defined in Sections 41 and 42 of the Code as the landlord’s obligations. Here are some of the main points on renters rights in Hawaii:

Moving In

  • The unit should be ready for the tenant to move in on the date and in the condition that was agreed upon. If the unit is not ready for the tenant to move in, the tenant has the right to refuse to pay rent for the time they cannot move in, to terminate the rental agreement, and/or to recover any damages from finding alternative housing.

Rental Agreements and Paying Rent

  • If there is a written agreement, the landlord needs to give a copy of it to the tenant.
  • The tenant has a right to receive the name and address of the owner or owner’s agent in writing. If the owner is absent, the owner needs to designate an agent who lives on the same island as the rental to act on the landlord’s behalf.
  • The tenant has a right to receive a receipt for all rent paid.
  • The tenant has the right to terminate the rental agreement and vacate the residence within the first week of occupancy if the tenant’s conditions are not met. The tenant can terminate the agreement and vacate the rental at any time if there is an imminent threat to the tenant’s health or safety.

Rental Condition and Repairs

  • The rental should be safe and healthy, meaning there should not be bug infestations, mold, or fire hazards.
  • All the electrical, plumbing, and other facilities of the rental should be in good working condition. Running water should be supplied to the tenant. Note that the landlord has the right to do repairs. The tenant is obligated to notify the landlord of any needed repairs, and the landlord should start those repairs within 12 business days unless there are “reasons beyond the landlord’s control,” in which the landlord should notify the tenant of the reason for the delay. For appliance or plumbing repairs, those must be started within three days after the tenant notifies the landlord. The tenant has the right to make repairs if the landlord does not do them, and the tenant can deduct up to $500 from the following month’s rent, giving copies of receipts to the landlord.
  • The garbage should be regularly removed, and the tenant should be given garbage bin, unless they are renting a single-family home.

Entering the Rental Unit

  • The landlord must give the tenant notice at least two days before entering the rental unit, and the landlord can only enter during reasonable hours. However, if there is an emergency, the landlord can enter without notice. If a landlord enters without permission, the landlord is responsible for any theft or damage; also, the tenant has the right to terminate a rental agreement or go to court for a fine of not more than $100 if the landlord keeps asking to enter the home without a reasonable cause.

Locks

  • In Hawaii, a landlord cannot lock a tenant out of a unit without cause or a court order. If this happens, the tenant can terminate the rental agreement or get the rental back. Either way, if a renter is locked out of their home by the landlord, the tenant has the right to receive up to two month’s rent – either through payment or free occupancy – and the cost of the legal suit.

Voting Ads

  • The tenant has the right to display a sign or other advertisement that urges voters to vote for or against a certain person or issue if this follows building and housing rules.

Hawaii Landlord Rights

Just like renters, landlords also have certain rights and can expect certain things from their tenants. Here are the main points from the Code:

Unit Maintenance

  • The tenant and the tenant’s family and friends must keep the place clean, healthy, and safe, which includes throwing away garbage and using plumbing and appliances properly. If the rental is not kept in a satisfactory condition, the landlord has the right to tell the tenant in writing a due date upon which the problem(s) must be corrected. If it is not corrected as specified in writing, the landlord can terminate the rental agreement, sue to evict the tenant, or correct the problem while billing the tenant for the expense.
  • The tenant must notify the landlord of any needed repairs, and the landlord has the right to make repairs to maintain the property.

Rules and Rental Agreements

  • The landlord has the right to give rules to the tenant when they enter the rental agreement, which must be clear enough to be understood. These rules can preserve the landlord’s property from abuse (i.e. closing the gate) and can promote equity of services and facilities among all the tenants (i.e. only using the washer and dryer at certain times).
  • The landlord has the right to terminate a rental agreement if the renter uses the property for something other than their home – unless this other use is specified in the rental agreement.
  • If the tenant decides they do not want to move in after making a rental agreement, the landlord has the right to keep any money deposited with the landlord, one month’s rent, and a daily rental amount for the period to re-rent the unit plus commission.
  • If the tenant leaves the rental without giving proper notice, the landlord has the right to collect the rent for the remainder of the term and to collect the daily rent for the period to re-rent the unit plus commission.

Security Deposit and Receiving Rent

  • In Hawaii, the landlord can collect a security deposit that is equal to one month’s rent; however this must be returned to the tenant 14 days after ending the rental agreement, unless there is legal justification for keeping the deposit, such as repairs with receipts.
  • A Hawaii landlord has the right to receive the agreed upon rent on time. The landlord can terminate the rental agreement after five days of not receiving the rent, if they give notice on the first day it was due.
  • The landlord has the right to increase rent four months or more before the increased rent is due, if there is an increase in taxes or operating costs, capital improvements of the residence, or the rent increase is comparable to other units in the area.

Entering the Unit

  • If the tenant is absent for a continuous period of more than 20 days, the tenant should tell the landlord. If the tenant has not notified the landlord of their absence and has not paid the rent, the landlord has the right to terminate the rental agreement. The landlord can also enter the unit during extended absences for safekeeping, inspection, maintenance, and showings.
  • With a notice of at least two days, the landlord has the right to enter the rental for inspections, repairs, or showings to prospective buyers or renters. In an emergency, such as fire, weather damage, abandonment, or extended absence, the landlord can enter without two days’ notice. If the tenant does not allow the landlord entry, the landlord has the right to hold the tenant accountable for any losses incurred by their refusal.

What should I do if I have a landlord/tenant problem? 

The above are some of the main points of the Hawaii Landlord Tenant Code. However, if you have further questions or need assistance, call the Hawaii landlord tenant hotline at 808-586-2634. Staff from the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs operate a Landlord/Tenant Information Center from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Fridays, except on state holidays. They can help to clarify any information in the Hawaii Residential Landlord/Tenant Code.

If your tenant or landlord is not abiding by the Hawaii rental rights, the following steps may be taken to address any problems:

  • When you know your rights, directly discuss the problem with the landlord or the resident manager or the tenant. Give people the benefit of the doubt and try to resolve problems through friendly communication before resorting to more extreme measures. Take good notes and try to get anything in writing if possible – in case you are not able to resolve the problem through open communication.
  • If informal discussions do lead to any solutions, you may want to participate in mediation or another form of dispute resolution with an outside party. This can help to save time and money before going to court. In fact, a judge often refers landlord/tenant issues to a mediator before hearing them in court.
  • If direct conversations and mediation do not work, you may have to take legal actions. Security deposit disputes will go to the Small Claims Court. Landlords can file claims against tenants in District Court. If you do go to court, supply as much hard evidence as possible: contracts, cancelled checks, receipts, pictures, and/or written correspondence.

While everyone hopes for the ideal landlord and tenant relationships, filled with aloha and peaceful living, it is also reassuring to know that certain rights exist for tenants and landlords in Hawaii that can help to establish baseline understandings if there are any conflicts. Consult the Hawaii landlord tenant hotline or an attorney for more information.