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Landlord Tenant Q&A with DARLENE HIGA (RA), RMP

Property Manager,
The Realty Company, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I have been using a handy-man friend I know to do work in my rental. I pay him of course and recently someone told me that was against the law…that I have to use a licensed person, not just a friend. Is this true?

A. This is an excellent and complex question. Therefore, depending on several unknown variables – like the type of work he is doing for you and the cost of the work – we are unable to determine if it is legal or illegal. So let’s go over some issues before addressing this question.

First you want to ensure that your handyman friend is registered with the State of Hawaii and has his General Excise Tax license and can therefore bill you and you in turn can expense the services that he is providing for you on your rental property. He should also provide you with evidence of workman’s compensation insurance should he have any employees working for him. You may also inquire if he has liability insurance.

The Hawaii Revised Statue that addresses contractors is Chapter 444.

Under this section (HRS 444-1) the definition for a “contractor” is any person who by oneself or through others offers to undertake, or holds oneself out as being able to undertake, or does undertake to alter, add to, subtract from, improve, enhance, or beautify any realty or construct, alter, repair, add to, subtract from, improve, move, wreck, or demolish any building, highway, road, railroad, excavation, or other structure, project, development, or improvements, or do any part thereof, including the erection of scaffolding or other structures or works in connection therewith.

There are several exemptions to this rule, specifically (HRS 444-2). Under this section any project or operation for which the aggregate contract price for labor, materials, taxes, and all other items is not more than $1,000. This exemption does not apply in any case where a building permit is required regardless of the aggregate contract price, or where the undertaking is part of a larger or major project or operation.

Therefore, if his repairs are limited with an aggregate cost not more than $1,000 and no building permit is required, you are probably within the legal definition of a handyman.

It should also be noted that certain electrical or plumbing work must be done by a licensed electrician and plumber, no matter what the cost.

On April 22, 2012, there were federal changes in the law of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding lead-based paint renovation, repair and painting. This applies to any contractor/painter performing work on home and child-occupied facilities built before 1978. The rule requires workers to be trained to use lead-safe work practices and requires renovation firms to be EPA-certified.

So as you can see, hiring a handy-man can be a good thing, as there are many jobs a handyman can perform and that can be financially beneficial if the law is followed and both parties can abide by the above noted rules. However, if you do need a contractor, please do your homework to ensure that he/she is licensed as a contractor with the State of Hawaii, has the proper insurance, and you may also request references. All of this can be verified on various State of Hawaii websites or by calling DCCA.

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