Landlord Tenant Q&A

Q. Eight months ago I rented a two bedroom cottage on my property to a single man. When he reviewed the lease with me I asked if he planned to be the sole occupant. He said yes, but that his fiancee frequently visited and sometimes stayed on weekends…they planned to marry and at that point she would move in on a permanent basis. I asked no further questions and signed the lease with this understanding. No more than two months later it became apparent that she was living there. I let it go by, planning to approach him after checking on the proper procedure to amend the lease. Now I find that a friend of theirs is staying in the second bedroom. The electricity and water charges, which are included in the rent based on occupancy by one person, have increased substantially. The washer and dryer, which I supplied, are in frequent use. They are good tenants, so I want to deal with the situation amicably, but I know, as a landlord, it isn’t good business to just ignore it. First, how should the lease be amended…how do you determine who is a permanent or part-time resident. Is there a rule of thumb for calculating water and electricity costs per person per month?

A. Having additional occupants arrive to “visit” for long periods of time is a common problem in rental units. I have personally heard a wide variety of reasons why additional people are “visiting”… for so long. While you cannot forbid a person to welcome their children (under the age of 18) into their home, even if they forgot to mention that the children spend summers with them, or that circumstances have changed and they will no longer living with the other parent or guardian, you can prohibit other adults from moving into the property. The Standard Board of Realtors lease (Section 4) prohibits guests from staying more than 14 days without prior written consent of the Landlord.

In your specific situation, I would suggest approaching the tenant who signed and is on the lease and openly explain your concerns about increased utility charges. You stated that they are good tenants and you don’t want them to leave.

I would suggest offering to negotiate a new lease with all three adults at a rate which would offset the increased utility charges. Show them the before and after bills, and be open and honest. You would, of course, have to get in writing a mutual agreement between you and the original tenant to terminate the existing lease prior to writing a new lease.

If your choice is to negotiate a new lease with a higher monthly rent to cover these costs and include additional persons living in the house on the new lease, you do have the law on your side as long as you have used the Honolulu Board of Realtors lease or another lease that addresses additional tenants.

Should your friendly and open conversation with your tenant not produce the desired results, you can give him 10 days notice to correct the violation of the existing lease or you can terminate the lease. Hopefully, it won’t come to that and an honest and candid explanation to the tenant will suffice.

More often than not, when the landlord and the tenant deal with each other from a basis of respect and honesty a fair and mutually acceptable agreement is reached.

However, to avoid this kind of situation in the future, you will need to be very specific both in your advertising for the rental and in the actual lease regarding habitation of the unit.

With regard to estimating utility costs based on number of persons and types of appliances in a household, I did check with Hawaiian Electric and Board of Water Supply and both responded that it was not possible to provide a broad quote.

Answers to questions in Landlord Tenant Q&A are provided by members of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM), an organization that supports the professional and ethical practices of rental home management through networking, education, and certification. The Oahu Chapter, founded in 2004, has become the largest in the nation with 166 registered members. Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column by Realtors address individual cases and should not be construed as interpretations of the law. For specific information on Hawaii State Law, go to http://hawaii.gov/dcca/areas/ocp/ landlord_tenant or contact an attorney.

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