POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 15, 2011
QUESTION: What is the most common dispute between a landlord and a tenant, and how is it normally rectified?
ANSWER: The most common dispute is nonpayment of rent. Legal Aid does training for groups of tenants where we explain tenants’ and landlords’ rights and obligations. Generally, if a tenant does not pay the rent, they will ultimately need to move. The landlord can go to court and evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent.
Q: Under what circumstances can a tenant break a lease without being held financially responsible?
A: Generally, there are a number of situations where a tenant can move, does not have to pay rent or can deduct certain amounts from rent: One, the landlord doesn’t let the tenant move in; two, if, during the first week, the tenant determines that the landlord is in material noncompliance with the lease (such as failure to follow building laws affecting health and safety, or appliances supplied by the landlord are not in working order); three, if the unit is damaged and is uninhabitable (not caused by the tenant); or, four, the landlord locks the tenant out overnight without first getting a court order.
The Landlord-Tenant Code says that a landlord can collect damages caused by a tenant who wrongfully vacates and stops paying rent before the end of a lease. The damages are usually the cost of re-rental and any loss of rent until the unit is re-rented.
Q: What can a landlord do to get paid money that is owed by a tenant who vacated without cause?
A: I generally only represent tenants because the Legal Aid Society has income and asset limits. I suggest that a landlord in this situation look at the Residential Landlord-Tenant Code or contact an attorney who practices landlord-tenant law or collections law.
Both landlords and tenants can take a case to court when the other is not meeting their obligations.
Q: What steps can a landlord take to deal with a tenant who doesn’t pay the rent or doesn’t pay it on time?
A: The usual lease has a grace period and a late fee if the tenant doesn’t pay on time. If the tenant has not paid, the landlord must send a notice giving the tenant five days to pay the rent plus any late fees. After this, the landlord may file a complaint for a Writ of Summary Possession in the District Court where the property is located. A judge will order an eviction if the landlord proves the tenant owes rent. The entire process usually takes seven to 14 days. If a tenant is served court papers for an eviction, he must show up for all court dates. Otherwise, the judge’s decision will be based only on information presented by the landlord, and the court can order the tenant to pay whatever amount the landlord requests.
Q: If the tenant is renting a room or separate unit in a house and has a separate kitchen, what can the landlord do to make sure it’s within the law regarding a sink, stove and refrigerator?
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A: The landlord should be sure to follow the zoning for his property and follow the building code. Anyone can check the City and County website for their area and do a property search to find out zoning information. If the property is zoned for a single-family dwelling, separate units should not be rented for the property. If a building inspector finds an illegal unit, the owner can be fined, and the tenants may be told to move immediately. Tenants may be able to collect damages if they are forced to move under this circumstance.
Q: How much, or what range, can a tenant expect to pay for renting a one-bedroom condo, two-bedroom condo and a room in a house?
A: There is no rent control in Hawaii, so rents are determined by what the market will bear. I have seen a rental for a room as low as $300; I doubt there is an upper limit when we’re talking about luxury homes.
Q: If a landlord has assessed a security deposit equal to one month’s rent, can the landlord charge an additional deposit if the tenant wants to bring in a pet?
A: The Residential-Tenant Code states that a security deposit can only be collected for the purpose of remedying tenant damages, cleaning the unit or for damages when a tenant wrongfully quits the dwelling. This amount is limited to one month’s rent.
Q: Does a landlord need to get a business tax license and pay general excise tax if renting a room or a condo?
A: If a landlord rents a unit to a tenant, the landlord must get a GET tax license and pay GET.
Interviewed by Dave Segal, email@example.com.
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