HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Emergency orders to protect renters during the pandemic will end one day, and many fear that will thousands of tenants in financial holes ― unable to dig out.
Experts are urging landlords to begin talking with their renters now about how to settle up on back rent in order to avoid costly lawsuits and evictions once the state’s eviction moratorium ends.
“It’s tough for everybody. There’s been a lot of reduced income and that makes paying rent difficult," said Dale Kobayashi who wears two hats ― as a landlord and a state lawmaker.
For the past 18 years, Kobayashi has been the landlord at Mark Dale Susan Apartments in McCully.
“There’s 36 units on three floors above this,” he said, walking through the garage.
Kobayashi also represents District 23 in the state House. He said he’s seen first hand the stress people are under due to the pandemic ― with 20% of his tenants currently out of work.
It’s a nationwide trend that has hit Hawaii especially hard. The pandemic crippled the state’s tourism industry in March and has left tens of thousands of people out of work.
Officials at the Office of Consumer Protection say going forward it’s going to be extremely difficult for landlords to recoup back rent from tenants who don’t have the ability to pay.
Once pandemic protections come to an end, experts fear the court system will be flooded with evictions. “You are looking at thousands and thousands of cases,” said Stephen Levins, director of the Office of Consumer Protection. “Even if a landlord were inclined to do that it’s going to take a while.”
Levins added the backlog could mean higher legal costs for property owners who try to collect back rent.
Kobayashi agrees, and says landlords have two choices.
“You either take someone to court,” he said. “Or you sit down with them and work it out with them. I’m always in favor of the latter.”
He believes the only way Hawaii’s will get through this is by shared sacrifice. Now, he’s working with several tenants to renegotiate their agreements.
“Come to the table. Mediate and work together,” Kobayashi said. “You can’t get blood from a stone.”