What is the Eviction Process in Hawaii?

By Ralph Heibutzki

Evictions in Hawaii follow the legal framework outlined in Part VI of the state's landlord-tenant code. Depending on the type of eviction, both parties must appear two or three times to present arguments in District Court, where a judge allows the eviction to proceed or blocks it. The final step is a separate hearing to determine how much the loser owes the winner for damages.

Initial Timelines

If a tenant isn't paying rent, the landlord must notify him of an eviction in five business days. A 10-day notice timeline is required when the landlord suspects the tenant of using property for commercial purposes -- which Section 70c of the code prohibits, unless the rental agreement allows it. A tenant who cuts people's hair at home could be evicted under this clause, for example. The landlord must also give 10 days' notice if the tenant doesn't maintain rental property, according to the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs' landlord-tenant handbook. If the problem isn't corrected, the landlord can repair it herself and bill the tenant or start eviction proceedings. No legal notice is needed for actions that may result in property damage. In that case, the landlord can seek immediate eviction.

Preliminary Steps

Once a tenant gets an eviction notice, he must appear in court to admit or deny the landlord's complaint. If the tenant admits responsibility, the judge can order him to leave a rental property immediately and pay any rent he owes, plus court costs, interest and legal fees. Otherwise, the case continues. In Honolulu only, the court will ask the tenant at his pretrial hearing if he wants a mediator to help settle the case. If those efforts fail, the court sets a trial date, which usually occurs in a week. Tenants in all other jurisdictions head straight to the trial stage after their initial appearances.

Legal Strategies

Tenants trying to avoid eviction must not miss a chance to assert their rights. For example, landlords who file nonpayment evictions can ask the court to place the tenant's disputed rent monies in a special trust fund. The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii recommends the tenant object on due process grounds, whether the landlord's original complaint included such a proposal or not. If the judge allows this stipulation, tenants who can't come up with the disputed money lose the case automatically, along with the opportunity to present a viable defense.

Eviction Defenses

Depending on their situation, tenants can base an eviction defense on technical grounds, such as failure to receive a notice or errors in the complaint. Another option is to present an affirmative defense by alleging the landlord violated the code through her actions, the Legal Aid handbook states. Examples of such violations include not keeping properties habitable and falling behind on repairs. Tenants who have faced retaliatory evictions and lockouts -- which are illegal under the code -- can raise those issues, as well.

Possible Outcomes

At trial, the judge makes her decision after listening to both sides. A judgment for the tenant allows him to stay. Otherwise, the landlord gets a writ of possession to remove him and his belongings immediately and a chance to recoup costs at the damages hearing. Tenants can file a motion asking that the court reconsider. However, Legal Aid doesn't advise going this route, because the tenant would have to present new evidence that he didn't know about before. The additional round of hearings needed to evaluate such claims may also boost a tenant's legal fees significantly.

About the Author

Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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