Tenants' Rights in Hawaii

Looking at Kaanapali Beach from an apartment

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Images of Hawaii often promote thoughts of relaxation and a carefree way of life, but landlords and tenants there still must follow laws about rental properties. Such statutes provide structure and minimize disputes in the daily course of the landlord-tenant relationships and are similar to those in other states. Still, there are six rights all tenants in Hawaii should know.

Fair Housing

Tenants in Hawaii have a right to fair housing and are protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act and Hawaii’s own state law. Under the federal act, seven classes of people are protected:

  • Color
  • Disability (physical and mental)
  • Familial status
  • National origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex

The goal of this law is to make sure all prospective tenants and actual tenants are treated equally when applying for housing, trying to obtain financial assistance for housing, and during the actual tenancy period. An example of a landlord action that would be considered discrimination under federal law would be if a landlord had two prospective tenants to choose from to fill a vacancy and was going to charge one prospective tenant a higher rent for the exact same apartment because of race.

In addition to the seven classes already protected under federal law, Hawaii’s law lists six classes:

  • Age
  • Ancestry
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation

An example of an illegal and discriminatory rental practice under Hawaii state law would be if a landlord required a prospective tenant to be tested for HIV before the landlord was willing to rent the dwelling to the tenant.

Security Deposits

Hawaii’s landlord-tenant law limits how much a landlord can collect from tenants for a security deposit, reasons landlords can take deductions from a security deposit, and how long landlords have before they must return security deposits.

Hawaii landlords are allowed to collect security deposits from tenants up to the equivalent of one month’s rent. For example, if the monthly rent is $1,000, the most a landlord can charge as a security deposit is $1,000.

Hawaii law does not specify how a landlord must store security deposits during a tenant’s occupancy, but the law does state reasons why a landlord can make deductions from the deposit. These include covering unpaid rent and for failing to return the keys to the property.

Tenants in Hawaii have the right to have security deposits returned within 14 days of moving out. Landlords must mail deposits to each tenant's last known address along with an itemized list of any deductions taken from the deposit.

Domestic Violence

Tenants who have proof they have been victims of domestic violence usually can terminate their lease agreements early without penalty; landlords cannot fine them for breaking a lease. If tenants who are victims of domestic abuse wish to remain in a rental property, landlords are responsible for changing the tenant’s locks at the tenant’s cost.

If a tenant falsely claims to be a victim of domestic violence, the landlord could be awarded up to three times the monthly rent or three times actual damages, whichever is greater.

Interest in an applicable lease is immediately terminated for any tenant subject to a court order to vacate a property because of a domestic violence case.

Rent Disclosure

Terms of a lease must spell out for tenants how much rent is due each term, when and where it should be paid, and for how long the lease agreement is valid. Tenants in Hawaii are allowed to make deductions from their rent if their landlords have failed to make necessary repairs within a certain amount of time.

Landlords in Hawaii can increase rent only after providing written notice and only if the terms of the lease have expired.

Landlord Retaliation

Landlord retaliation is illegal in the state of Hawaii. Actions that could be considered retaliation by a landlord include increasing a tenant’s rent or decreasing services to the tenant. A tenant may terminate a lease agreement if the landlord refuses to make repairs to the unit in a timely manner. If a landlord has been found to act in retaliation, the tenant could receive actual damages, as well as reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs.

Notice Before Landlord Entry

Tenants have a certain right to privacy, and their rent pays for this right. Hawaii’s landlord-tenant law spells out certain times when a landlord can legally enter a tenant’s apartment as well as the required notice the landlord must give. In most situations, a landlord must give a tenant 48 hours’ notice before gaining access to the tenant’s unit. Legally allowed reasons for entering the unit include showing the unit to prospective tenants and making necessary repairs.

Hawaii law states that a landlord can enter a tenant’s unit at reasonable times, generally considered to be normal business hours, such as from 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Landlords do not have to give two days’ notice if there is an emergency, such as a burst water pipe. If a tenant has abandoned a unit, a landlord also is not required to give notice before entering the unit.

Landlords in Hawaii legally can enter a tenant’s unit:

  • To inspect the property.
  • To make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, improvements, alterations or decorations.
  • To supply agreed-upon services.
  • To show the unit to prospective tenants, prospective or actual buyers, mortgagees, or contractors.
  • During a tenant’s extended absence for maintenance or inspections.