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Hawaii NewsKokua Line

Big Island lava-land owners get a tax break, not a buyout

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Lava encroached upon a Leilani Estates home on May 9. The government does not claim ownership of all land covered by lava; the private property owner retains title even as the land’s assessed value plummets to zero, said Lisa Miura, Hawaii County’s real property tax administrator.

Question: What happens to the land when the lava flow covers it? Does the state or county claim title to it? If so, do they compensate the previous owners? What about if land is only partially covered by lava?

Answer: No, the government does not claim ownership of all land covered by lava; the private property owner retains title even as the land’s assessed value plummets to zero, said Lisa Miura, Hawaii County’s real property tax administrator.

Common misconceptions to the contrary, circulated on social media and elsewhere, might stem from the fact that the state does claim new coastal land created by volcanic eruptions; this ownership applies to lava flows extending seaward from the coastline — increasing the size of Hawaii island — not to those that cover existing property, Miura said.

There may be cases where the government eventually assumes control of private land inundated by lava, but it is not common practice. “If the property is abandoned, then eventually it could be sold at tax sale. However, we have not had a tax sale recently in this area as the values have been less than what was owed on taxes. The county and state have not been automatically assuming ownership,” Miura said.

On a related note, Hawaii County does reduce or eliminate real property taxes for property owners within a lava inundation zone, and is doing so for those devastated by Kilauea’s current eruption, which has destroyed more than two dozen homes in Lower Puna and made many more inaccessible.

Adjustments can be made whether the property was fully engulfed by lava, partially covered or “lava locked” and made inaccessible, Miura said. The assessed value of such property would fall to zero for 2018, and the owner would pay no property tax, she said. Any property assessed at $500 or less is exempt from property taxes, under a Hawaii County law approved last year.

Presumably, such properties would continue to be assessed at $500 or less for years to come.

Also, the Hawaii County Code Section 19-36 allows for remission of some property taxes paid in lava zones. County authorities are making adjustments for the current tax year as well as the upcoming tax year, according to Hawaii County’s Real Property Office, which posted an FAQ on the topic at 808ne.ws/lavatax. Not every affected property owner will get a credit, because of the $200 minimum tax previously required.

Q: I haven’t seen anything about the floating lanterns on TV. Are they having it this year?

A: Yes, Lantern Floating Hawaii will occur on Memorial Day (May 28) at Ala Moana Beach Park as usual, according to its website, lanternfloatinghawaii.com.


On Saturday the Leeward Jaguars Special Olympics team ran in the 43rd Annual Wahiawa Pineapple 10K Run. This was our third consecutive year and our best run yet. We would like to give a sincere mahalo to the Chief Petty Officers Association, and President Endy Bowdrie, for once again making sure that our special athletes had every opportunity to participate in this fun-filled and exciting event, and making for lasting memories for our athletes and parents. This year we had four wheelchair athletes, and one of our coaches is an accomplished wheelchair athlete herself. She completed the race in her custom hand-cycle with her daughter’s wheelchair hooked up behind her, an incredible and emotional accomplishment. This would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of the CPOA. Thank you, CPOA, for your continued kindness to our team. We also thank you for your commitment and sacrifices you make in your service to our country. — Coach Jim Ritchie, Leeward Jaguars

Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email kokualine@staradvertiser.com.

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