Graffiti scars city, but private property owners can't be forced to clean it up

Graffiti scars city, but private property owners can't be forced to clean it up

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's an eye sore that the city can't force people to cleanup. The city cleans up graffiti nearly every day from public property, but private property is another story.

We were contacted by a viewer complaining about all the graffiti on Kalakaua from King Street to Kapiolani Boulevard saying it's embarrassing.

Vandals are equal opportunity scofflaws hitting walls of all types, utility boxes and temporary tarps.

"We try to cover it up a lot but it always comes back," said Les Yamashita.

Les Yamashita's family owns a building on Kalakaua Avenue. He paints the walls about once a month covering graffiti, only for vandals to hit again.

"Once you graffiti a tile wall you have to paint it and it doesn't look the same," said Yamashita.

Some owners paint over it. Others don't. And the city can't force private property owners to clean up graffiti.

"Under the current law the city does not have jurisdiction to force a private property owner to remove graffiti. The Department of Planning and Permitting does send letters out when we get complaints politely asking people remove graffiti from their private property but there is no fine or no enforcement unfortunately," said Jesse Broder Van Dyke, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell's Communications Director.

Those polite letters don't always work. The city can fine people for blight, like hoarding stuff or overgrowth, but graffiti isn't considered blight. It's a property crime.

It doesn't fall under the anti billboard law either. So those that have so called graffiti art don't need permission on private property.

"If you want to paint your building yellow you have the right to do that. If you want to paint a mural on it you have the right to do that," said Broder Van Dyke.

And it's not like property owners want the graffiti.

"I think they are innocent victims because they didn't ask for it. If you have a nice place with a nice wall I mean they're just going to graffiti it," said Yamashita.

The city knows the graffiti doesn't fit with the tropical image, but the city can't use a broad brush when it comes to applying the law.

The Caldwell Administration would be open to new laws forcing property owners to clean up graffiti but there are private property rights involved that would need to be addressed.

In the meantime if you see someone in the act of vandalism call 911. If convicted the vandal would have to pay a fine or jail time and clean it up.

Follow Tim Sakahara:   

Copyright 2014 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.