As pandemic drags on and missed rent payments pile up, landlords scramble for options

Updated: Oct. 3, 2020 at 8:50 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Cherlyn Reyes is a first-time landlord.

A family of five adults has been renting her West Oahu home for more than a year, but they haven’t paid their rent since June and their lease expired on Aug. 31.

For now, she can’t evict that family.

Gov. David Ige has extended an eviction moratorium through the end of October. And there’s another moratorium, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through the end of the year.

Reyes says she understands the need to help renters, but asks: What about landlords?

There is a state-managed housing assistance program, where rent payments of up to $2,000 a month are made directly to landlords. But tenants are the ones who need to apply,

And Reyes believes her renters may make too much take-home pay to qualify.

In the meantime, having no rent payments has stretched her own finances.

“You know, we’re still paying our mortgage. We’re still paying our taxes. And on top of this, it’s a business, so we have to pay our business tax. I have to pay my GE (general excise) tax for all of that,” she said.

The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii helps both tenants and landlords. But it concedes that right now, things are tilted more in the tenant’s favor.

According to Dan O’Meara, the managing attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s housing and consumer unit, that’s because “your landlord still has a house."

“They might have trouble paying their bills, they may have trouble paying their mortgage, lots of financial problems,” he said. "But the tenant is worse than that. It’s not only the financial concerns, but it’s the fact that they’re out of a home.”

O’Meara said the CDC moratorium is meant to keep renters from becoming homeless.

And Reyes said she understands that.

“Homelessness is already big in Hawaii, and you know, we give back to the community as much as we can, and we’ve been in the villages at Waianae Boat Harbor to see what homelessness is like,” said Reyes.

O’Meara said that landlords should hire an attorney if they aren’t able to get back rent paid. Reyes said she has spoken to lawyers, but fears that she won’t see that money paid back.

“They’re planning to move," said Reyes. ‘What if they move out of state? Then I can’t file damages in the state (of Hawaii). So it really leaves us hanging."

The Legal Aid Society said that if there are other issues besides not paying rent, landlords may have a better chance in court. But those landlords should get legal help now, as courts may get backlogged with landlord-tenant cases once the moratorium ends.

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