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Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in Hawaii

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In a Nutshell

Landlords in Hawaii can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Hawaii.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated December 13, 2021

Facing an eviction is stressful. In addition to possibly becoming homeless, you might believe that you don’t have any rights. Fortunately, Hawaii law provides protections for tenants facing eviction cases. This article goes through Hawaii’s landlord-tenant code on evictions and how you can use them to protect yourself. If you’ve been threatened with eviction, haven’t paid all of your rent, or have a lease that’s expiring, this article may be useful for you.

What Is Eviction? 

Hawaii landlords use eviction to make a tenant leave a rental unit. To evict you, your landlord first needs to give you an eviction notice that explains why they want you out. Typically, they need to give you a certain amount of time to resolve the issue as well. If you don’t resolve the problem by the time the notice ends, then the landlord needs to get a court order to remove you.

If your landlord makes you move out without a court order, they’ve committed an illegal eviction or illegal lockout.

Hawaii has seven types of evictions, we’ll go through them each in this article.

Who Can Be Evicted in Hawaii?

You can only face eviction if you have a landlord-tenant relationship. A tenant rents an apartment unit or home through an agreement with its owner. This agreement is often outlined in a lease. If someone lives with the tenant, they can also be evicted, even if they aren’t on the rental agreement.

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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Hawaii? 

There are three general reasons you can be evicted in Hawaii. The first concerns the nonpayment of rent. This is when you don’t fully pay the rent, you’ve been paying late, or you haven’t paid in a while. Your landlord can also evict you for violating the lease for a reason other than not paying rent, like having a pet that isn’t allowed. Finally, you might face eviction if your lease runs out and you won’t leave.

The eviction process generally works the same regardless of why you’re evicted. But the amount of notice that your landlord has to give you varies depending on the cause of the eviction.

Late, Short, or Behind on Rent? 

In Hawaii, you can be evicted if you’re late on rent, even by a day. But the landlord needs to give you a 15-day notice to pay the back rent or vacate.

A recent change in Hawaii law requires that for cases of the nonpayment of rent, the landlord must notify Hawaii’s Mediation Center. The Mediation Center will then reach out to the tenant and offer an opportunity to schedule a mediation. The tenant must schedule a mediation within 15 days of the center reaching out. If the tenant pursues this option, then the eviction process is on hold until the mediation occurs.

Lease Expiration or Termination

Hawaii permits an eviction once the lease runs out or is terminated. In both circumstances, the landlord is telling you that you don’t have a right to stay in the rental unit, even if you’ve paid all of your rent.

If your lease is on a month-to-month term or longer, the landlord needs to give you a 45-day notice to leave when the lease is expiring, and they don’t want to renew it. If your lease is less than month-to-month, the landlord only needs to give you a 10-day notice to vacate.

If you’ve violated the terms of the lease, the landlord can terminate your lease early. In most cases, the landlord is required to give you notice prior to starting the eviction process. In some cases, you may have the opportunity to fix the issue. The amount of time the landlord needs to give you depends on the type of lease violation.

  • If you’re creating issues that impact other people, known as a “common nuisance,” the landlord needs to give you 24 hours to fix the issue. If you don’t, then they must give you five days to move out before they pursue an eviction. Examples of a common nuisance are someone continuing to make too much noise that disrupts the neighbors or if someone’s trash is piling up in the hallway.

  • If you commit an illegal act that damages the property or hurts other people, the landlord can demand that you leave immediately. If you don’t, they can file for an eviction.

  • If you perform an illegal activity that doesn’t hurt other people, the landlord must give you 10 days to solve the problem or leave.

  • If you’ve violated the lease through any other means, the landlord needs to give you 10 days to fix the issue or vacate.

If the property owner wants to demolish the unit or convert it into something else, they need to give you 120 days to vacate.

The Hawaii Eviction Process 

Landlords must follow specific steps to bring an eviction lawsuit. This section explains what Hawaii’s eviction proceedings look like.

What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?

Before filing an eviction with the court, your landlord must give you written notice that explains how long you have before you must move out and if you have a right to cure the issue.

  • For illegal activity that harms another person or the property, the landlord doesn’t need to give any notice.

  • With illegal actions that don’t harm anyone, the landlord must give you 10 days to stop before facing eviction.

  • If you create a common nuisance, your landlord must give you 10 days to resolve the issue or leave.

  • If you’re late on rent, the landlord needs to give you 15 days to pay the rent before they file the eviction lawsuit. 

  • For lease expiration where a lease is shorter than month-to-month, the notice period is 10 days to leave.

  • For lease expiration that concerns a lease that is month-to-month or longer, the landlord must give the tenant 45 days to leave.

  • If the landlord wishes to demolish or convert the unit, they need to provide the tenant with 120 days’ notice to vacate.

What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court? 

When the notice expires, the landlord has to go to court and get a detainer warrant. This lets the landlord serve you with a summons that will have the court date. The landlord isn’t allowed to serve you personally. They must get the police chief, sheriff, someone appointed by the court, or someone else who is older than 18 to serve you. The summons can be served to you in person, given to someone who lives with you, or posted in an obvious place on the property.

Hawaii law doesn’t specify when the summons must be issued by. But once you’re served, you must file an answer within seven days of the summons being issued. You file an answer by filling out forms that explain what your defense will be. These defenses will explain why you shouldn’t face an eviction. You can also put forth counterclaims, which allow you to sue for monetary damages.

If you fail to file an answer or don’t go to the hearing, the court will give the landlord a default judgment. If the landlord gets a default judgment they win the eviction lawsuit just because you didn’t go to the court hearing.

If your eviction is for nonpayment of rent, when the landlord files the eviction notice, a mediation center should reach out to you to help you resolve the issue with your landlord outside of court. If you pursue mediation, the eviction hearing can’t occur until after mediation occurs.

Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims

Filing an answer gives you an opportunity to contest the eviction by raising an affirmative defense or to bring a counterclaim for damages. At the eviction hearing, you should show evidence that supports your defense. Affirmative defenses are objections that explain why you shouldn’t be evicted, such as:

  • The landlord is discriminating against you. 

  • The property violates the safety code.

  • You’re being evicted because you complained about issues with the property.

  • The landlord’s reasons for eviction aren’t true.

  • Your landlord never provided the required notice.

You’ll also be able to raise counterclaims. This is when you sue for damages. If you win the counterclaim, it won’t prevent the eviction. But it can help you get money that the landlord owes you, or decrease what you owe the landlord. Counterclaims typically concern the rent. If you aren’t sure what defenses or counterclaims apply to your case, consider contacting a tenant’s rights lawyer or getting legal advice from a legal aid organization.

What Happens After an Eviction Trial?

If the landlord wins, the court will issue a judgment, known as a writ of assistance or writ of possession. Hawaii law doesn’t state how quickly this must occur, but the court will typically issue it the day of the hearing or a few days later. Once the writ is issued, you must leave immediately.

If you wish to appeal a judgment, you must file an appeal within 30 days of the judgment. The court can guide you to the necessary forms to file with the appropriate court. In the appeal, you must explain why you believe the judgment is wrong. 

Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Hawaii

Beyond knowing the relevant laws on eviction, there are practical steps to defend yourself against a wrongful eviction or to avoid eviction.

  • Gather evidence that supports your claims. This may include records that show you paid the rent or photos and videos that demonstrate the condition of the property. It’s also a good idea to have a municipal building inspector produce a report about the unit.

  • If you can’t make the court date, you should contact the court to see if they can move the hearing. If they can’t, ask how you can stop a default judgment.

  • If you pay the rent that you owe to stop an eviction, get a receipt that shows you paid.

  • Keep in contact with your landlord throughout your tenancy and solve any problems right away. This can prevent an eviction. You want to avoid an eviction under any circumstances, even if you’re leaving the unit because having an eviction can make it difficult to rent later on.

  • If you’re already being evicted, reach out to your landlord or their attorney, to try to negotiate. The landlord might stop the eviction if you move out right away. Get a copy of any agreement you make in writing. Sign it, and have the landlord or property manager sign it, too.

  • Proactively pursue mediation if you’re being evicted for the nonpayment of rent. When the landlord tries to evict you for not paying rent, they are supposed to send an eviction notice to Hawaii’s mediation center. A mediator will then reach out to you. If you don’t hear from the mediation center within a few days of receiving an eviction notice, reach out to the mediation center. At a minimum, mediation can buy you some time. And the best-case scenario is that it may stop the eviction lawsuit.

Tenant Resources in Hawaii

Landlord-Tenant Eviction Mediation Program has information on mediation services

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