DARLENE HIGA (RA), MPM, RMP
Property Profi les, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I have a property located near rail construction and, due to the heavier traffic to commute to and from work, my tenant wants to get out of their lease early. Do I have to let them out? What rights do they have, and what rights do I have as a landlord in this situation?
A. Our office is located near the rail construction so I can empathize with the tenant’s plight. It sometimes takes me 30 minutes to get through a section of road that usually takes 5 minutes, and the extreme road conditions can mimic driving on an unpaved, unimproved road, where only a 4-wheel drive vehicle should be traveling! Currently, we can’t even cross the street or turn left out of our project and can only turn right on the main highway.
If I want to go left, I have to first go right, go down a few blocks to another intersection, then make a U-turn to go back the other way.
It certainly is an inconvenience and a discomfort to our way of life.
The question here centers around what the landlord’s responsibilities are to the tenant and the interpretation of the Landlord Tenant Code regarding the landlord’s rights. One should always discuss this with legal counsel before proceeding, but my take on this issue revolves around HRS 521-42(a). This section of the Landlord Tenant Code provides that the landlord shall at all times during a tenancy supply and maintain fit premises. It also goes on to say that the premises are to be kept in “habitable” condition. “Habitable” is not defined in the Landlord Tenant Code. Generally, it means the property cannot be unsafe, unsanitary, or unfit for living. Arguably, the tenant may claim that this is the case and therefore allow the tenant to terminate the lease if the landlord cannot remedy the “unfit for living” condition. Considering all other members of the community are living with the same conditions and it does not directly impact the actual unit itself, this does not seem like a convincing argument. Not every inconvenience or discomfort of living is covered under the warranty of habitability; therefore, in this case, I would surmise that the tenant has no legitimate argument to break their lease due to the rail work and should wait till the end of their lease to be released.