You just got a notice from your landlord saying you’re evicted?!? NOW WHAT? Even more upsetting, your landlord has told or given you notice in writing that you have to be out in five days! Your mind is racing, and you think: Can they do that? Isn’t there a moratorium on evictions? Where can I go? What about my family? Are we going to be homeless?!?
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If your landlord is threatening immediate eviction and has entered your home without notice … CALL THE POLICE. The governor has extended the eviction moratorium until April 14, so your landlord CANNOT evict you for non-payment of rent. Although, under the current state moratorium, a landlord CAN evict you for violating the terms of your rental agreement. Such terms can include the number of residents, the use or sale of controlled substances, failure to maintain the premises, smoking or any other rules that are in the lease.
The landlord may notify you in writing of any problem and specify a time (not less than 10 days) in which you must correct the problem. Even then, there is a legal process needed to remove you, and it takes time. This is also true once the moratorium on evictions for non-payment has ended. However, you may still want legal help because, when the moratorium ends, you WILL be subject to eviction. If you don’t have the resources to catch up on your rent or hire a private attorney, see the next paragraph.
HELP IS COMING! Everyone is stressed out when financial agreements aren’t kept. Try to remember, your landlord may be dealing with potential foreclosure if s/he cannot pay the mortgage. The uncertainty around COVID-19 has left both tenants and landlords dealing with potential serious consequences.
The federal government is finally working on a new aid package, which should happen pretty quickly, and that will cover rent in the future and some in the past, to help you avoid foreclosure. The beauty of this money is, from what we understand, if your landlord is hesitant to pay the rent because he doesn’t want to pay taxes or his rental is unpermitted … the funds can be released to you!
So contact the agencies that can help, including Catholic Charities, Malama Pono Health Services, Family Life Center, Women In Need (WIN helps families and men, too) and Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity (KEO offers help with utility bills). These programs are excellent.
DISCLAIMER: This column is intended to provide general information regarding eviction procedures and tenant rights. We are not attorneys, and this is not intended to be considered as legal advice. IF YOU NEED LEGAL ADVICE, admit it and contact the Legal Aid Hotline at 808-536-4302, online at legalaidhawaii.org/get-help.html, the Landlord/Tenant Hotline, 808-274-3141, ext 62634 (8 a.m. to noon) or seek an attorney.
To look up your rights as a tenant, check out the official State Tenant Landlord Handbook, which can be found at cca.hawaii.gov/hfic/files/2013/03/landlord-tenant-handbook.pdf.
LISTEN UP, LANDLORDS — if your house was built without the proper permits or you haven’t been paying taxes so you don’t want to accept CARES Act money because you’re afraid it will be reported to the IRS, from what we understand, Kaua‘i’s code enforcement only responds to complaints, so taking payment from a CARES program shouldn’t cause you alarm.
And, think about it, even if you did have to pay a little bit extra to keep your tenants from being homeless … isn’t that worth it — to show real aloha, to give some compassion and be a good citizen? Isn’t that the righteous thing to do?
TENANTS, KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! We have heard stories of landlords coming into a home and physically removing items and putting them on the street. What?
Let’s say you’ve tried everything and your landlord is still being a turkey. Seriously, without a court order for possession of YOUR home, your landlord, by law, cannot even come into your home without giving you 48 hours’ notice. Not even to inspect your home or do non-emergency repairs, and they cannot start to remove your personal items.
If that happens, you may need to call the police! Most landlords know the law and will follow it. Some landlords are panicked and desperate — just like their tenants! So be sensitive, and keep communications open. They are people too. Some mom-and-pop operations may not have the knowledge, so they may violate the law unwittingly. Large apartment complexes usually have professional management and follow the law. It’s crucial for landlords and tenants to know your rights and responsibilities, follow due process and work together during these trying times.
IF YOU AND YOUR LANDLORD CANNOT WORK IT OUT — your landlord must sue you in court to take possession of the property. This involves several steps. The first step is a five-day pay rent or quit notice. If you don’t leave, next is a notice from the court that you are unlawfully detaining the unit and giving you a court-appearance date, which is usually scheduled three weeks after the notice is served. On that court date the case is referred to mediation, which takes place immediately.
IN MEDIATION you and your landlord try to come to agreement. Sometimes the landlord and tenant agree to resolve the issue with a payment plan or other solution. Sometimes there is no agreement. If there is an agreement, it is presented to the judge and a “stipulated settlement” is entered, which just means you have both agreed to do something and, if you don’t do it, the eviction will proceed (more court action to take possession).
If you don’t agree during mediation, the case will be heard in court. That could take three to six more weeks for a court date. During this time, you are still responsible for the rent and the amount you are being sued for may increase. However, you cannot be legally forced out of your home. If the case goes to court and you lose, you will have to move and may also be responsible for the landlord’s legal fees.
SOME FREAKY INFO. Folks, late last year it was reported that between 30 and 40 million households across the U.S. could be facing eviction as a result of this pandemic! Insane. The University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization has estimated that 20% of the renter households in Hawai‘i are late on their rent, which translates to roughly 30,000 households statewide! That means thousands of landlords have not received payment. As if Hawai‘i’s housing market weren’t already daunting enough, Kaua‘i could see 500 households facing eviction! That’s probably at least 2,000 people! Added to our current homeless!
LANDLORDS AND TENANTS — PLEASE CALL PAL Kaua‘i’s KKCR radio show tomorrow, Monday, Feb. 22, between 4 and 6 p.m., 826-7771. Ask questions. Share your experience, good or bad. Our expert guests will help you:
w FRANK ROTHSCHILD has a long and storied career as an attorney, assistant public defender, assistant district attorney, mediator, per diem judge, author, lecturer and educator. Frank has practical and professional knowledge of the foreclosure process;
w SONIA SONG worked with law firms in the San Francisco Bay Area, directed the United Nations volunteers China office and is now community mediator at the courthouse self-help center, providing guidance and assistance for you if you face eviction;.
w KEO MEDIATION PROGRAM handles a wide variety of conflicts for families, neighborhoods, businesses and government agencies. Eviction cases always begin with mediation, and a KEO representative will explain that process.
The new COVID-19 funding will help soon! HANG IN THERE — TOGETHER … WE CAN MAKE IT!
Jim Edmonds, president of PAL (Permanently Affordable Living) Kaua‘i, can be reached at Jim@PAL-Kaua‘i.org. The PAL Kaua‘i mission is to provide homes and sustainable-living solutions, within reach, restoring hope for the people of Kaua‘i.