A moratorium on evictions that Gov. David Ige imposed in April 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began strangling Hawaii’s tourism-based economy will be lifted Aug. 6, paving the way for renters and landlords to tap into federal rental assistance and free mediation services on all islands intended to make landlords whole and keep families in their homes.
Renters will have a 30-day pause on evictions after receiving an eviction notice, and Ige urged both renters and landlords to contact their local mediation centers about their rights.
Ige imposed the first eviction ban on April 17, 2020, and extended it for more than a year “to prevent mass evictions.”
On Thursday, Ige told the state Legislature and Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald that the ban would no longer be extended after Aug. 6.
Fears have been growing that the courts would be flooded with eviction disputes, along with a new wave of homeless.
So House Bill 1376, signed into law by Ige as Act 57, rewrites the landlord-tenant code and sets up a system to keep people in their homes and repay their landlords by ensuring renters access to mediation, Ige said.
In a statement, Recktenwald said, “The Judiciary has been working since last year with agencies and community partners across the state to prepare for the expected increase in eviction case filings once the moratorium is lifted. We are grateful to those partners for their efforts. I also want to thank Governor Ige and the Legislature, especially Representatives Troy Hashimoto and Nadine Nakamura, for working collaboratively to enact legislation to help tenants and landlords resolve their disputes during these unprecedented times.”
Ige said that “Act 57 makes significant changes to the landlord tenant code and incentivizes mediation. … There are significant resources to allow tenants to get help with the rents past due.”
Tracey S. Wiltgen, executive director of The Mediation Center of the Pacific Inc., said initial estimates are that 10,000 isle households are behind on rent and that 1,500 to 2,000 of them will receive initial eviction notices once the moratorium is lifted.
The hope is that 50% of the households that receive the first round of eviction notices will seek the services of their local mediation center, “and ideally we’d like to see more,” she said.
Most of the delinquent renters are about one month behind, said state Rep. Troy Hashimoto (D, Waihee-Waiehue-Wailuku).
The easiest and simplest solution would be to get landlords to accept federal funding to cover their overdue rent, Wiltgen said. Other options include mediating payment plans to make up for the overdue payments and renegotiating rental agreements, she said.
Solutions are intended to be worked out in one mediation session lasting no longer than 90 minutes, she said.
Ige extended the eviction moratorium for what he said at the time would be a final 60 days through an COVID-19 emergency proclamation issued June 7.
Even as COVID-19 continues to spread, Ige said lifting the ban on evictions represents “the next step in our community.”
State Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, said, “We are afraid of the onset on the courts with eviction proceedings and also, and most importantly, people out on the streets if they’re not allowed to stay in their own homes. So this program of requiring some pause, a diversion from evictions is so important. I believe it will prevent homelessness but also allow us to care for each other.”
Moriwaki called it “the Aloha way to go.”
Stephen H. Levins, executive director of the Office of Consumer Protection, called the approach “a terrific scheme” that will keep residents in their homes, repay landlords and “prevent chaos in the courts.”