EXCLUSIVE: State, city citing Nanakuli man tenants call 'slum lord'

EXCLUSIVE: State, city citing Nanakuli man tenants call 'slum lord'
Duane Smith
Duane Smith

NANAKULI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former and current tenants of a Nanakuli landowner call him a "slum lord" and the state and county are citing him for environmental and building violations, including illegal septic tanks that tenants said are leaking raw sewage.

The property along Paakea Road in Nanakuli is owned by Robert Hoohuli. His former tenant, Duane Smith, who just moved out of the property a few weeks ago, describes him as, "Definitely slum lord, definitely."

Smith claimed Hoohuli is taking advantage of formerly homeless people and tenants with bad credit and allowing them to live in substandard, even dangerous conditions. But Hoohuli said he's helping people who need a roof over their heads and they're filing complaints because he's kicking some of them out for failing to pay rent.

The state Health Department just inspected the site last week because of three large illegal sewage tanks outside a trailer rented for $1,000 a month by a woman who asked that we protect her identity.

"The raw sewage that's spilling all over out of the septic tanks. That's the most concerning to us, because there are children that are living in the area," the woman who called herself "Gigi" said.

Smith said, "The sewage would always overflow, and the guy would come to suck it up, but he would come maybe two weeks, three weeks, so you'd always have that bad smell."

The woman said the raw sewage has been occasionally leaking on and off for more than a year.

Hoohuli told Hawaii News Now a state Health Department inspector told him he has to replace these tanks with a legal septic tank system and the people living there must move out immediately. A state Health Department spokeswoman said the department does not comment on current investigations.

Sources said the state will likely fine Hoohuli as much as $250, with escalating penalties if the situation is not corrected quickly.

But there are other problems, such as defective electrical work the city discovered last October and when the violation was not corrected seven months later, the city issued an initial fine of $50 that could increase, according to a city spokesman.

The tenant said there's still exposed electrical wiring in her trailer.

"We do have small children that come by and they can just pull on it and hopefully not get electrocuted," the tenant said.

Smith added: "He takes advantage of people, vulnerable, like when people who come in, like me, and had another family, he tells us 'Oh, just come in, we work everything out.'"

Smith said before he moved out in early May, he was paying Hoohuli $350 a month to rent an eight-foot by four-foot portion of an old bus on the property. He and his wife lived in a cramped space and Smith said the landowner used the rest of the bus for storage.

"Me and my wife could be sleeping at night. And boom, you just hear the rats running around and one rat actually wen' jump over my wife, and that's what we was living through," Smith said. "For six months, I was showering with the agricultural water in the back by the pig pen. And that was horrendous 'cause you could smell the pigs and everything."

Hoohuli declined an on-camera interview but told HNN by phone: "I'm trying to help people to get off the beach. They're trying to make the person who's helping them look like the bad guy."

Hoohuli claimed he's the victim of what calls "Retaliation…" ... saying "People are complaining because I evicted them for drug use and not paying their rent."

The current and former tenants deny they were using drugs and the current tenant said she's withholding rent because of the disgusting , smelly sewage conditions that have forced her and her fiance to move out of their bedroom.

She said the landlord raised their rent from $1,000 to $1,500 when she took photos of the overflowing sewage tanks.

A city spokesman said it plans to send an inspector to look into reports of illegal structures on the property.

The woman, who's now preparing to move out of the trailer, said Hoohuli "would demand that we work on the property also, and not get a break on rent, so, we'd have to work for free."

She said he wanted her to do yard work, raking up the place, watering grass and plants, spending a couple of hours a day five days a week.

Smith said Hoohuli started by asking him to do occasional yard work but eventually came up with all kinds of work that took several hours a day, without pay, but for a $125 decrease in his rent, bringing it down to $350.

"But then every day I was out there, he had me weed whacking, water, cleaning up the property, raking up the property, watching the gate that you guys saw. I always had to watch the gate to see who was coming in, and coming out, any kind times of the hours," Smith said.

Finally, Smith said he got fed up with all his landlord's demands that he work six or more hours a day with no pay.

"He would harass us, he would tell my wife, oh you guys not happy, you guys can leave," Smith said.

Smith said he and his wife saved up enough money to move to a house in Waianae Valley.

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