Landloard/Tenant Q&A: CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI

Q. I have a long-term tenant who has recently lost his job. I really like him and his family. I do not want to just kick them out; they are trying hard to keep up. Can you recommend any steps aside from hiring an attorney for eviction?

A. Yes, I can. Please refer to the following information provided by STAE, Steps To Avoid Eviction, an organization consisting of representatives from the State Department of Human Services Homeless Programs Office, the City & County of Honolulu Department of Community Services, the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law Students for Public Outreach and Civics Education, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Hawaii, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Helping Hands Hawaii, Catholic Charities Hawaii, Mediation Center of the Pacific, and private attorneys.

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As soon as a landlord or tenant thinks the tenant might have trouble paying the rent, the worst thing that either the landlord or the tenant can do is to wait and hope that things work out. Any delay in confronting the problem causes the tenant to fall deeper in debt and the landlord to lose more income.

Landlords need to realize that it is to their benefit to be proactive in helping tenants find the assistance the tenant needs to pay the rent. If the communication between the landlord and tenant is good, the two should meet and develop a plan addressing the problem. If either the landlord or the tenant is not completely comfortable with communicating with the other, either party should enlist the help of a mediation service, such as the Mediation Center of the Pacific. A plan can include a credit counseling service, such as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Hawaii, to see if a feasible budget can be developed for the tenant so the tenant can realistically pay the rent.

If the tenant is experiencing a temporary financial setback, there are social services available, such as Helping Hands Hawaii, to assist the tenant in the payment of back rent and future rent for a short period. If the financial difficulty is anticipated to last longer, the tenant may want to consider applying for assistance from the City and County of Honolulu or the State of Hawaii for a rent subsidy. All of these services and assistance programs take time to implement. It is therefore imperative for both the landlord and tenant to act quickly to address any anticipated problem in the payment of rent.

The organization Steps to Avoid Eviction (STAE) has published a one-page information sheet that identifies the types of programs available to assist tenants in this situation and includes contact information for a website and a telephone number to get more information on specific organizations offering assistance.

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You can find in-depth information about this program at www.courts.state.hi.us/ special_projects/stae.html. It is commendable that you want to work with your tenant. Helping a good tenant get back on their feet can be a good business decision in the long run given the proper circumstances. It sounds like your situation may be just the type of scenario this program is designed to help. Please remember that your rental property is a business and should be treated as such. Consult an attorney with any additional questions.

I wish you the best!

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