Residents may qualify for property tax exemptions

LIHUE — The longer we wait, the harder it will be to solve, said Councilmember Ross Kagawa at Wednesday’s Finance and Economic Development Committee meeting of the County Council. He was talking about Bill No. 2756 that aims to grant real property tax exemptions to family members whose names are not on titles.

“Let’s continue taking these steps,” said Kagawa, a proponent of the bill.

As time goes on, situations become murkier and title gets “clouded,” thus, making it even more cumbersome and expensive for families to receive the same kind of tax relief that every other property owner on the island, if eligible, is allowed to apply for.

Families that have lived on their land for generations and have no intention to sell, but can’t keep up with taxes based upon soaring property values, would be granted the opportunity to move from their current “residential” or “residential investor” classifications to various others, including homestead. They may even be able to apply for a low-income tax exemption.

As property values rise, family members who have lived on their land for decades, some more than a century, are having to pay double the taxes of others. Since property values in locations such as Haena and Hanalei have skyrocketed into the millions, that can translate to annual taxes as high as $20,000. In other words, under their current residential tax classification, they may be paying $6.05 per $1,000 assessed value, as opposed to $3.05 per $1,000 assessed value under the homestead classification.

“Hawaiian families are losing their homes,” said North Shore resident Mehana Vaughan.

Every family has their own circumstances to contend with, and while some have had taxes forgiven, others are faced with back taxes they haven’t been able to pay, she said.

“I think we need to understand what it’s like being in this situation,” Vaughan said. “This (bill) creates an avenue for ohana to qualify for existing tax breaks they are already entitled to.”

The proposed amendments would ease some of their tax burdens, as long as no living person is named on the title, and as long as a family member can prove that they are related to the property owner(s) by blood, marriage, a “reciprocal beneficiary relationship,” or as step-relatives.

Additionally, if an applicant can prove they are a lineal descendant of the original titleholder, they can apply for the kuleana exemption. The state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, in fact, has agreed to step in and help with identifying blood-related family members.

Malia Nobrega-Olivera of Hanapepe said she is also thankful for the help that the bill would offer.

“And the kind of kokua this can provide to family members,” she said.

County Finance Department Director Reiko Matsuyama clarified the intent of the bill and provided several examples of situations in which family members could be eligible for tax exemptions.

It’s unclear how many families would benefit, as the Finance Department doesn’t have software to track that information, said Matsuyama. But Councilmember Luke Evslin said it will likely only be a small number of people, and that the bill is just a starting point.

“We’re too late for so many,” said Evslin who, along with Councilmember Mason Chock introduced the bill.

Residents of the properties will still have “every incentive to clear title,” even though it can cost up to $100,000, Evslin said. Providing substantial tax relief may help some families do so.

“This is a way for people to get on their feet,” he said. “It’s not giving them anything extra, just giving them what they deserve.”

“It’s the least that we can do,” Councilmember Felicia Cowden said.

The second reading of Bill No. 2756 is scheduled for Wednesday at the next County Council meeting.


Coco Zickos, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or

  1. Palani August 22, 2019 7:23 am Reply

    Kauai needs a “Prop 13” for all of its property owners, not just residents. Property values for long-time owners is making it impossible to own property from generation to generation. One shouldn’t be forced to sell just because values go up.

  2. vegas43 August 22, 2019 8:22 am Reply

    This is a great option for those who aren’t listed on the property titles, however what about folks who are listed on the property title and land gets past down to them (Local Family- like 30+ years here on the island).They will eventually lose their land due to high property tax, because million dollar homes are being built around them or because homes around them are being sold for more than its worth!
    Many million dollar homes are being built around Kauai not just in Haena and Hanalei, why aren’t those homes taxed the additional fees that the long time residents next door will need to suffer paying?

  3. ...the least you can do... August 22, 2019 9:31 am Reply

    Well, how about “fixing” the property value(s) and rates at the …say …lowest point in the past 5 years. It then stays at that level until the property is sold or transferred. Otherwise, the property value…based on what again..? continues to creep up 5%-10% per year. Anyone knows how long it takes for the property value to DOUBLE at a 5% rate? 14 years at 5%, 7 years at 10%. This way, resident property owners can actually plan for the future. The way it is now, this insidious property value “creep” every year, will eventually( if it hasnt already) put an enormous strain on everyone with a “fixed” income, which is just about everyone! So, this new “clear title” tax break will be great, but its certainly not the least you can do…by a long shot!

  4. Jake August 23, 2019 6:45 am Reply

    All the BS on endless exceptions, not enough county Appraisers to keep up with “market value”, and all the time and taxpayer money it takes to run this self-licking-ice cream cone………

    Just have a flat rate up to $2 million for Homestead and Residential rates, and increase the GET to fund the County Budget. Stop using property owners to pay Government services. GET gets tourists in the mix.

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.