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Law lets city remove hazards from homes

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A new Honolulu law will make it easier for the city to remove abandoned vehicles from front yards or get rid of fire hazards like dead wood and overhanging trees.

Under the law, people may complain to the city Department of Planning and Permitting about a messy neighbor if the situation is causing unsafe or unsanitary conditions, or interferes with the quiet enjoyment of a residential property.

After investigating and obtaining a court order, the department could forcibly remove hazards from a property and charge the violating homeowner for the cost of the cleanup. Until now, the department could only issue fines, place a lien on a home and then take the violating property owner into foreclosure.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed the legislation last week, KITV reported.

The new law could offer hope to Tim Garry of Kalihi-Palama, who lives next door to an elderly man who Garry said has become a hoarder over the past four or five years. His neighbor’s property is filled with construction debris, wood stumps and old appliances, Garry said.

Garry filed a complaint in May. The city later issued a notice of violation against his neighbor.

The city extended the deadline for addressing the violation because the property’s owner is elderly. The notice is still pending.

George Atta, the department’s director, said the new law provides the city with a tool between civil fines and foreclosure.

"We don’t want to make people homeless, so this provides an option of fixing the problem without going all the way to foreclosure," he said.

Still, new rules and funding must be worked out before the city can begin enforcing the law, Atta said.

Forcibly removing a hazard from someone’s disheveled home would require a storage facility for any items deemed valuable, as well as an outside contractor to remove debris, he said. In addition, the department would have to document the removal on video to protect the city from potential lawsuits.

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