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Column: To resolve landlord-tenant disputes: Don’t wait, mediate

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  • Judge Melanie May

    Judge Melanie May

Hawaii’s eviction moratorium is currently set to expire on April 13. Even if the moratorium is extended, landlords and tenants will eventually have to resolve their disputes over unpaid rent, utilities and other monies owed. Now is the time for those with looming disagreements to consider their options for finding a resolution.

While going to court may be the first thing that comes to mind, it’s not the only option. Mediation can open the door to practical, creative, timely solutions — without the uncertainty, stress and expense of litigation.

With litigation, there’s no guarantee for either side. Slam-dunk cases and ironclad defenses are few and far between. The only guarantee is that one party will prevail, and the other will not.

Landlords often assume they will win, and have nothing to lose. That assumption is false. Even if a landlord prevails at trial, that “win” is not without cost. In addition to legal costs and fees — which can quickly escalate with average attorney rates at $225/hour — the landlord may incur the costs of hiring a sheriff to execute the writ of possession, bringing in a cleaning and repair crew to prepare the property for re-rental, and lost income while the property is unoccupied. Moreover, a landlord with a history of evictions in publicly searchable court records might find it difficult to attract good tenants.

For tenants, a win at trial might not necessarily be the end of the dispute. Depending on the circumstances, a landlord might re-file the complaint and start the eviction process again. If the tenant loses at trial, the tenant may be required to vacate the property immediately, pay the landlord’s legal fees, forgo any security deposit, incur moving expenses, and scramble to find a new place to live. Beyond that, the tenant’s credit history may be harmed and background checks could reveal the eviction, making the tenant less attractive to future landlords.

Advantages of mediation:

>> It provides the parties an opportunity to explore the availability of rent relief. Many rent-relief programs have limited funding, with some applications processed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

>> It’s confidential, informal and flexible. Court proceedings are public.

>> It costs less than going to court. Free mediation of landlord-tenant disputes is available through the Mediation Center of the Pacific on Oahu.

>> It’s faster than going to court, and can be scheduled at times more convenient for parties.

>> Knowledge of court rules and procedures are not necessary in mediation.

Mediation maintains relationships, which is helpful when parties will continue to have contact after their dispute is resolved. Even when parties go their separate ways, a former landlord might be contacted by a prospective landlord, and a former tenant might post online reviews for prospective tenants.

During National Judicial Outreach Week, March 1-10, the judiciary asks the public to remember that our legal system is founded on the rule of law, which assures that no one is above the law, and everyone is treated equally under the law. The preservation of our liberties depends on the preservation of the rule of law, and fair, impartial courts.

However, the law does not always provide practical solutions for every problem. The best solutions are often crafted by those who know the issues firsthand: the parties themselves. Mediation helps bridge the gap between problems and solutions, and guides parties toward an agreement tailored to their needs.

The bottom line is while you could lose much going to court, you have nothing to lose in mediation, and much to gain.


For information on mediation services, search “COVID-19 rapid response landlord tenant mediation Hawaii” online.

Melanie May is deputy chief judge in Hawaii’s First Judicial Circuit.

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