A closer look at quiet title process

Hawaii’s history is filled with examples of families who have had to deal with the issue of fragmented title as ancestors pass away without leaving wills identifying who will inherit the lands left as their legacy. I am one such ancestor who inherited land at Pila‘a that I have worked with my immediate family to maintain and pay property taxes on over the course of four decades. There has been recent misinformation in the news about my intentions to secure this land in order to pass it along to my family, so I wanted to correct the record and share my story with the community.

The “quiet title” process was developed because it is not practical for hundreds of individuals, many of whom don’t know each other, with fractional interests in a small parcel of land, to cohabitate. Quiet title has been used for decades in Hawaii, and many states have similar systems. While it is not a perfect system, the goal is to provide clear ownership of a parcel of land while providing fair compensation to those individuals with fractional interests in the land. The suit for partition is often the only legal remedy available for people to address this situation.

Manuel Rapozo, who for all intents and purposes bought the parcels around 1894, remains the legal owner of the lands in question, was my great-grandfather, and died intestate in 1928. Me and my immediate family (wife, children and grandchildren) have been living on, using, cultivating, caring for, and protecting the family lands in Pila‘a for more than 40 years — and so far as I know are the only members of the Rapozo family that have done so. Manuel leased the lands to the Kilauea Plantation very early on. After his death in 1928, the lands continued to be leased by the plantation, which cultivated sugar cane on the two parcels that were most habitable. As far as I know, after the plantation went out of business, no one in the Rapozo family lived on them or used them.

I was born on and have spent most of my life on Kauai. I was born in Kilauea, where my great-grandfather, grandfather and my mother lived and worked for the Kilauea Sugar Plantation. I was born in the plantation’s medical dispensary in 1944.

When I started a family at age 30, a primary concern, like many young families, was securing affordable housing. After my first child, paying rent became a concern on a very lean family budget. At a family gathering, an aunt heard me complaining about the rising price of local rentals. She took me aside and said, “Why don’t you live on grandpa’s land?” This was the first I ever heard that there was land in my family.

I discovered that four small parcels of land were listed as belonging to my great-grandfather Manuel Rapozo. He must have been a very thrifty man to be able to purchase them as he was a Portuguese plantation laborer who immigrated to Hawaii from the Azores Islands, then a possession of Portugal. He had seven children and earned very little in a time when plantation laborers were paid maybe a dollar a day in wages. He purchased these lands for $250 in March of 1894 from a German man named Max Schlemmer, someone who I suspect was a land speculator.

I was unable to find that anyone in the family had ever lived on or cultivated those lands. Manuel Rapozo leased the lands to the Kilauea Sugar Plantation while he was alive. After he passed away in 1928, apparently the leases were extended until the plantation went out of business in 1971.

Knowing then that my family had a rightful claim to the land, I did the research, which enabled me to locate the parcels of property on the land itself. They were located in an extremely “off the grid” location: no roads, no power, and no government water source, the nearest being more than three miles away in Kilauea.

Beginning in the mid-’70s, my immediate family (wife and three successive children) had the parcels of land surveyed, cleared them one by one, prepared the land for planting gardens and restored the ‘auwai system (irrigation) and lo‘i complex (taro pond fields) that once existed there. We began setting out coconut, ‘ulu and other fruit trees for more long-term subsistence benefits, grew vegetables for subsistence, and continued work on clearing the land, modifying and improving our living arrangements. This work on the ‘aina went on for more than 40 years and continues to go on today.

During the intervening years, we built a formal house out of recycled building material on one of the parcels that was comfortable, but still “off the grid.” The house survived two hurricanes, one (Iwa) in which we (wife and three children) spent an entire hurricane within its shivering walls.

I am unaware of any other descendant of Manuel Rapozo who has attempted to make use of the lands or who has offered to assist in paying the property taxes or to contribute to clearing the lands and having them surveyed. I want to resolve the issues pertaining to the title on these lands in order to secure for my immediate family our legal share of these lands that we have invested time and money into caring for over the course of the past 40-plus years.

The only legal process available to determine what is appropriate under the law is the quiet title process. That process is designed to designate a single owner over each of the four parcels that are part of our great-grandfather’s lands. At the same time, it would provide monetary compensation to all other family members who are determined by the court to be legal heirs of our great-grandfather’s estate. At this time, more than five generations later, most (several hundred) only hold small, fractional interests. The auction is the final step in the process to separate everyone’s interest and compensate everyone in the family fairly. I intend to bid in order to retain my family’s fair share in what remains of the property.

I have spent more than half my life tending to these lands and have been given shares in the ownership from my mother (now deceased), and other family members of her generation. Hopefully, my family and I will be able to continue to live on and care for these small plots of land well into the future. In the past, my immediate family and I have invested uncounted hours of our lives and significant resources to care for these lands with no security for our investment. I feel that the only recourse is to allow the legal system to finally resolve the relevant issues. I pursue these actions of my own volition in order to make that dream a reality.

•••

Carlos Andrade, A Pila‘a resident, is a retired professor of Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

14 Comments
  1. Alia March 22, 2019 7:07 am Reply

    I hear you mr. andrade… we was in that same situation with impossible ,unreasonable family members that crawled out of the woodwork to claim “their share’. But for years they neva claim their share of land tax, insurance, maintenance. They crawled out only because zuckkerberg translation: beeg money …is in the mix.
    The only mistake you made was you should have tried to acquire ownership 20 years ago before Zuckerberg came Kauai… then they probably wouldn’t blink at giving you.. they all say as for pass on to to our children… but in today’s world those kids will sell it all and blow what little money it’s worth. I hope you win and get it all for the hard work you put in the land!,,


  2. john smith March 22, 2019 7:38 am Reply

    Do you cross private land(s) to reach your parcel?


    1. Shaylyn Kimura March 22, 2019 6:45 pm Reply

      Yes, Mark Zuckerberg owns the surrounding land.


  3. Shaylyn Kimura March 22, 2019 7:49 am Reply

    This is a very interesting spin on the truth and may even tug at the heart strings of some. The truth is that Mr. Andrade has worked diligently and with precise calculation to keep us, his family, OFF the land. This includes convincing his Aunts and Uncles since the 1970s to sign their shares over to him citing the land was useless, “scrub land” as he called it to my Grandfather. My Grandfather agreed to sign under the condition that we, his descendants, have access to the land in perpetuity. That has yet to happen. Mr. Andrade’s master plan also included using family members, the keepers of our genealogy, for his agenda to exclude his own family. The alliance with Mr. Zuckerberg was an answered prayer for Mr. Andrade who clearly doesn’t possess the financial means to locate and pay off thousands of descendants. Bravo to Mr. Andrade for crafting such an endearing and entertaining op-ed. Now I ask The Garden Island to afford the other side the same opportunity to share our truth.


  4. Rev Dr. Malama March 22, 2019 9:49 am Reply

    It appears that the worst of human nature rears it’s ugly head again…. greed and deception.

    Shame on ANYONE who knowingly and scholarly informed is secretly colluding against the Hawai’ian Kingdom subjects and the Royal Patent and Great Mahele Law that still exists.
    Squatters rights only apply in the usa. BUT many , many facts are educating the masses that simply believing you are in authority or entitled does not make it so….
    This is a very important part of the return to the Neutral independent country we are and will always be….
    HAWAIIANKINGDOM.ORG


  5. Wiki March 22, 2019 12:51 pm Reply

    The main reason that most people quiet title their properties is because they can’t get an insurable title policy. They want to sell but a buyer wont purchase unless they can be assured they will be the legal owner (especially if the buyer is getting a loan to purchase it). If Mr. Andrade does not want to sell the land then there is no problem. Just keep enjoying your land as you have. Mr. Andrade wants to sell.


  6. Local sense March 23, 2019 6:16 am Reply

    His story does not make him look better. He said it himself that he didn’t know this land existed so then that means many other relatives didn’t know either. Just because he was the first squatter doesn’t negate the fact that there are other legal owners that would have taken interest had they known. So when they first learn of this it is when they are being sued by him so no real chance to show over time if they are truly attached to the land or angry for being sued so that he can get rich from selling the land that he “cultivated in secret”. Could have found out who else owned the land and asked permission to occupy because he’s several generation down and he knows well enough there are other owners before it could get to him. He got to live for free while everyone other legal owner had to pay rent/saved for a home not knowing they had this land that they too could have lived on. I bet he hoped, prayed, and wished everyday that no other descendent came by and cultivated a spot for their own family. And now here we are. Human greed has no end especially when it comes to family. My cynical view of the world is the first con artist you meet in life is your own family.


  7. james March 23, 2019 7:31 am Reply

    Interesting letter. It’s key to note that the land in question was apparently purchased by an immigrant laborer from Portugal who came here to work on a sugar plantation, with no Polynesian ancestry. We truly are a multi-cultural, multi-race based society; that’s what makes America great, and yes, Kauai is American whether you want it to be or not.


  8. Dave Taylor March 23, 2019 8:15 am Reply

    Let this be a lesson to all you lazy people that believe that you do not have to get a title to a deceased family member’s property after they die. Get your behind into probate court and don’t delay.
    Just because you have lived on a property for 40 years doesn’t mean you own it.


  9. Dave Masterson March 23, 2019 11:53 am Reply

    As a kuleana land owner myself, I must state that land parcels do not need a kanaka to reside on or to tend to the parcel in order for it to have cultural, historic, natural, or spiritual significance. Some kuleana land owners such as myself wish for our land to stay natural and undeveloped by anyone. By instituting the quiet title process, you take away the right to PROTECT the land from other owners. Mr. Andrade knows all of this, letʻs hope he does whatʻs pono in the next few years.


    1. BG Davis March 23, 2019 5:45 pm Reply

      “letʻs hope he does whatʻs pono in the next few years.”
      Don’t count on it.


  10. Pawlenty March 23, 2019 2:51 pm Reply

    It is important to remember that anyone who claims to be native Hawaiian is lieing. The natives people’s were slaughtered by the King and his followers. Kauai was forced to join the kingdom under duress, no different the what happened later to all of Hawaii It is humerous to claim some right to the land saying that our taking the land by force is more valid than later taking.


  11. BG Davis March 23, 2019 5:49 pm Reply

    The article states: “the Azores Islands, then a possession of Portugal.”
    In fact, the Azores are still part of Portugal. Let’s hope that Mr. Andrade’s grasp of Hawaiian history and culture is better than his perceptions about the history of Portugal and the Azores.


  12. Dt March 24, 2019 7:26 pm Reply

    I am scratching my head on how a retired professor has $1M and lives in a house made from recycled materials, cannot pay rent or buy a house and hired a lawyer. Something doesn’t add up.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.