LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Profiles, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. My landlord mentioned that the water and sewer charges have increased over the past few months and he will be raising my rent to cover that cost. Water and sewer are included in my rent but I don’t see the bills so I don’t know for a fact that the charge has gone up. Can I ask him to verify the increase to me before he raises the rent? What kind of notice does he have to give me prior to raising the rent?
A. The answer to your question will depend on what type of a lease you are on. If you are on a month to month contract then the landlord has to give you a 45 day notice to raise the rent. Actually on a month to month contract, any change to the contract, whether that is raising the rent or changing any of the terms of the contract, requires a 45 day notice is required.
If you are on a fixed contract, with a specific end date, then the landlord will need to wait until the end of the fixed term to raise the rent or change any terms of the contract.
The exception to this would be if you are agreeable to the change – in most cases this would be a change that came as a request from you; then the contract could be modified prior to the end of the contract. An example of this would be if you request to add another tenant, then the contract could be modified based on mutual agreement of all parties.
Another exception to increasing rent on a fixed contract would be if there is a provision in the lease allowing for a change in the amount of rent at a particular point in time. An example of this would be a lease that has a step up provision to increase the rent after six months on a one year contract.
The landlord is under no obligation to justify to you the reason for the rent increase. His motivation could be one of many reasons – including the fact that the water and sewer charges have gone up. It will be up to you to either accept the rent increase or move from the property. Of course you can try to negotiate with the landlord and see if you can come to a mutually agreeable price.
Please be advised that once you agree on a rental increase, the landlord has the right to increase the security deposit as well. Hawaii law allows that as rents increase, a corresponding increase may be made in the amount held as a security deposit as long as it doesn’t exceed one month’s rent.
The one thing that the Landlord Tenant Code does prohibit is retaliatory rent increases. HRS Section 521-74 states that a tenant’s rent can’t be increased after: 1) The tenant has complained in good faith to the Department of Health, Building Department, Office of Consumer Protection, or any other government agency concerned with landlord-tenant disputes of conditions in or affecting the tenant’s dwelling unit which constitutes a violation of a health law or regulation or of any provision of this chapter; or 2) The Department of Health or other government agency has filed a notice or complaint of violation of a health law or regulation or any provision of this chapter; or 3) The tenant has in good faith requested repairs under section 521-63 or 521-64.
There are certain exceptions to this subsection, but the reason for rent increases after such complaints or requests must be specific and justified. An example would be that landlord has become liable for a substantial increase in property tax, there have been substantial capital improvements to the dwelling unit or that the rent now demanded of the tenant does not exceed the rent charged other tenants of similar dwelling units in the building or does not exceed the market rental value of similar properties.