Level The Playing Field Between Tenants And Landlords - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Authors

Dina Shek

Dina Shek is the legal director for the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawaii.

Jendrikdrik Paul

Jendrikdrik Paul is the president of the Marshallese Community Organization of Hawaii.

“The landlord said we pay him rent or move out.”

“The landlord sent someone to take the keys.”

“I know I can’t evict them, but the law doesn’t say I can’t ask for rent!”

These stories from families we serve demonstrate that unlawful evictions and threats to stable housing continue despite the governor’s moratorium on evictions.

We applaud the moratorium and the Legislature’s efforts to create rent relief funds, but it is only the first step to much-needed bolder actions if we are to prevent a tidal wave of evictions and the mass houselessness of local families.

Pacific Heights Homes.
Pictured are homes in Pacific Heights. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Even with the blanket state prohibition on eviction actions, there are widespread reports of landlords demanding rent from tenants awaiting unemployment checks, issuing five-day eviction notices for failure to pay rent, and imposing undue pressure on tenants to “voluntarily” leave.

Further, there is essentially no enforcement for illegal evictions, allowing landlords to avoid criminal liability. Yet Honolulu police officers have arrested hundreds for quarantine violations, including numerous homeless people.

These problems foretell the magnitude of summary possession cases that will be filed in order to enforce back rent obligations, once evictions are legally allowed again.

And while additional data is needed, many of these unlawful actions are being initiated by corporate, investment landlords. As advocates, we see the “mom and pop” landlords doing more to help their tenants, despite being more economically vulnerable than their corporate counterparts.

Protect Hawaii Renters

Nearly 60 community organizations — including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Aloha United Way and service providers like Medical-Legal Partnership for Children and the Marshallese Community Organization of Hawaii – recently sent a letter to state leaders urging bold and meaningful action to protect Hawaii renters.

Hawaii’s minimum wage remains inadequate and we have minimal tenant protections and no rent controls. Hawaii had the fourth-lowest homeownership rate in the United States pre-COVID-19, and we now face the second highest unemployment rate, leaving us particularly vulnerable to rent-related housing debt.

Our letter provides a robust list of possible policy solutions including landlord “subsidies” contingent on rent reductions and commitments not to evict tenants, an extended eviction moratorium for pandemic-related housing debt, robust and mandatory mediation efforts, and expungement of eviction records for those who end up losing their housing in court.

But other jurisdictions suggest that even bolder action might level the playing field between landlords and tenants and send a strong message that none of us will be left behind.

Hawaii had the fourth-lowest homeownership rate pre-COVID-19.

San Francisco, for example, has passed legislation to permanently ban landlords from evicting tenants for missing rent due to COVID-19 related issues such as job loss or infection from the coronavirus.

The Ithaca City Council passed a resolution that would allow the mayor to cancel rent debt that residential and business tenants may have accrued over the past three months.

To be clear, these are only initial steps to address the looming housing crises facing these American cities. However, by reducing landlords’ substantial power to evict their tenants over rent, such policies will surely encourage landlords to work towards a more meaningful solution for all parties.

And in both instances, the leadership is committed to establishing robust rent funds and meaningful relief that will leave both tenants and small landlords whole. They are sending a strong message that all of their residents can remain safe and that nobody will be sacrificed — neither renters nor landlords — even in the worst of times.

Our legislators cannot ignore the eviction and houselessness crisis that the governor can only stave off one month at a time.

Nor can they ignore the political pressure that large, corporate landowners will place on both tenants and policymakers, to be able to collect rent that has not been paid due to the pandemic’s economic shutdown.

By taking bold action to level the playing field now, legislators can set the stage for truly meaningful solutions necessary to prevent a future housing disaster.

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About the Authors

Dina Shek

Dina Shek is the legal director for the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawaii.

Jendrikdrik Paul

Jendrikdrik Paul is the president of the Marshallese Community Organization of Hawaii.

Latest Comments (0)

It's always interesting to me that the pro landlord people never talk about the increased value of a property.   What would be truly fair would be to split the increased equity with the tenant as they have basically bankrolled the venture during their tenancy.   Tenant stays for 5 years,  unit increases in value by $100,000, half of that should go to the tenant.   When a landlord is whining about how little they make ask them why they invest in rentals.  Ask them about the profit.  Or the ability to use the rental as collateral to borrow against.   Different kind of discussion when one looks at the entire situation. 

CraigR · 3 years ago

Landlords have mortgages, utilities, property taxes and other expenses relating to their properties.  If the government is unilaterally prohibiting them from collecting rent, then the  government should also provide for tax credits to the landlords equal to the rent they are not collecting - that would be a fair solution.

Be_Civil · 3 years ago

Why not instead of asking landlords for everything free ask the government  to pay rents for needy. Landlords need to pay taxes insurance  ...utilities  many times ..people  to fix things. If you take away rent in a community it dose one thing ...drips investment in the area. Just look at all places with anti landlord laws ...all run down money drives up people  move. There is s middle ground. Have government help with rent. Teach people about credit and saving...build apartment that poor can buy cheap never sell for profit so when they move the next low income person can buy so people  can afford cheap housing. Let's fix the issues not blame people  who fix up and maintain  nice safe housing.

Mark2456 · 3 years ago

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