DARLENE HIGA (RA), MPM, RMP
Property Profi les, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. Am I obligated to disclose to prospective tenants that a previous tenant committed suicide in my rental unit? It’s been several years now and I don’t want to scare people away.
A. That’s a good question and one that is not a requirement under the Landlord Tenant Code but something you may want to consider. HRS 521 does not include a provision that requires an owner to disclose material fact as in the sale of residential real property (Chap. 508d). The disclosure required under HRS 521.43 is as follows, ” A landlord or any person authorized to enter into a rental agreement on the landlord’s behalf shall disclose to the tenant in writing at or before the commencement of the tenancy the name and address of: (1) each person authorized to manage the premises; and (2) each person who is an owner of the premises or who is authorized to act for or on behalf of the owner for the purpose of service of process and receiving and receipting for rents, notices, and demands.
There are also other Federal, State and County laws that require disclosures such as Lead Based Paint, asbestos, mold, and sex offender registration, but a death on the property is not covered under such laws, therefore an owner is not required to disclose such information in the state of Hawaii. That said, one may want to disclose such information as a matter of good business practice which falls under the moral code, “do unto other as you would have them do unto you”, or “treat others as you would like to be treated”. Is this something that you would want your landlord to tell you if you were a tenant? Is this a relevant fact that would scare you away if you were the tenant? If after being given the disclosure, a prospective tenant is squeamish about renting the unit then they are not the tenant for your property. The one that should be living there is the one that has been given the disclosure and doesn’t think this information is relevant enough to refuse to rent the premises.
Will the tenant ever find out if you don’t tell them that information? Most likely yes because the neighbors will probably tell them or they’ll find out some other way even if they weren’t searching for the information. The question you need to dwell on is, what will happen next? Will they seek to terminate the lease or not renew? Where will that leave you as the landlord and is it worth the aggravation of having to find another tenant? Only you can make that judgment so it boils down to how you would like to run your business?
Real estate licensees should make note that HRS 467-14 (18) says that licensees are compelled to, …”ascertain and disclose all material facts concerning every property for which the licensee accepts the agency, so that the licensee may fulfill the licensee’s obligation to avoid error, misrepresentation, or concealment of material facts…” The question now becomes, is a death on the property something licensees have to disclose? And if so, what if the owner/ landlord does not want you to disclose such information? The licensee will be in a dilemma and in a mutually conflicting position. If an owner directs you not to disclose, this would put you in a position to possibly lose your license. A licensee may want to step away from this relationship and terminate their management agreement. Owners should also be aware that doing so may be jeopardizing their relationship with their property manager and therefore have to decide whether to make such demands or not.