Apartment owners concerned over Iolani School property transition

Bernice Shea
Bernice Shea
Cathy Lee Chong
Cathy Lee Chong

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some families getting bought out of their condos by Iolani School aren't happy with the deal.  Instead of moving out quietly one woman may redecorate with a sledge hammer.

The property is on Date Street and Laau Street.  The entire block was bought by Iolani School two and a half years ago.  The lease ends in December and some people aren't happy with the options for their next move.

"There are a lot of people that feel like we're just being taken advantage of," said Bernice Shea, an absentee unit owner who does not live at the property.

The view from Bernice Shea's apartment doesn't look as good to her anymore.  She bought the one bedroom leasehold unit in 2007 for $42,000 thinking she would rent it out now and move in when she retired.  The interior designer invested in improvements upgrading the bathroom and kitchen. Instead come December 5 the lease is up and she's out as owner.

"I just don't feel its right that the absentee owners are basically getting the shaft. They're getting nothing. They're just expected to walk away," said Shea.

Iolani School bought the 5.5 acres of land June 2009 for $23 million.  It will also own all 11 buildings and 262 units on the land as soon as the lease is up in December.  The land is right next to the school campus.

Owner occupants that have been living there since the purchase date in 2009 will get $15,000 relocation allowance or have the option to stay in their unit as a renter.  The other owners not living in their unit may get up to $1,000 for appliances.

"The absentee owners get jack diddly," said Shea.  "Well if I'm going to get nothing I'm going to give them nothing. If that means I go in there with a hammer and break every tile in the place and take the drapes out and take the appliances out and I would encourage my neighbors to do the same thing.  Let's line up the trucks and empty the units out."

"It saddens me to hear that people would resort to something like that to vent any sort of unhappiness with the situation.  I understand the land lease agreement maintains that the buildings must be handed over in some sort of working condition," said Cathy Lee Chong, Iolani School.  "We know there are going to be individuals in different situations who are not going to be happy with the plan that we put out."

Absentee owners are considered investors and leaseholds are a gamble at the will of the lease and landowner.  Iolani says the priority is people who actually live here and will allow renters to stay for at least 5 to 10 years at or below fair market rate for rentals in the area until the school is ready to expand the campus.

"We've tried to give people ample warning about what's happening," said Chong. "I feel we've gone above and beyond to reach out to the community."

Some owners were also upset because they were not given the chance to buy their units, especially since they were in negotiations with the previous land owner Lum Yip Kee about a possible sale.  Then residents say the next they heard the deal had already been done to sell to Iolani School.

"When a lease ends it ends, however to me there is a moral part of it," said Shea. "All of us realized when we bought we bought a leasehold property. But when I bought and possibly many others there had been negotiations going on with the owners. As far as I understand there had been a price established."

Iolani School is hosting the fourth of four coffee hours to help owners and renters understand the situation.  The next is at 6:30 tonight at the Laau Garden building at 2609 Date Street.

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