City tries novel approach to crack down on illegal game rooms: Going after landlords

Since 2018, the Honolulu Police Department has raided the Ohana Grocery in Palama has been raided three times for illegal game rooms.
Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 5:36 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since 2018, the Honolulu Police Department has raided the Ohana Grocery in Palama three times for illegal game rooms.

But after each raid, the same types of criminal activity moves back in, said Rev. David Gierlach, rector of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church. “It hasn’t stopped doing business,” said Gierlach.

“It’s not only the illegal gambling and drug activity going on there but it’s ... become a real draw for the houseless population. Criminals set up their tents next to people who are legitimately houseless and prey on them.”

But City Council member Tyler Dos Santos-Tam said the city has come up with a novel way to crack down on these illegal game rooms: They’re now going after the landowners.

Last month after another police raid of the Ohana Grocery, inspectors with the city Department of Planning and Permitting followed up by citing the owner for building code violations.

The violations included turning a grocery store into a commercial game room and building interior walls and fortifying the exits without permits, Dos Santos-Tam said.

“Those are potentially thousands of dollars of violations that the landlord is going to have to pay and can’t pass off to the game room operator,” he said.

If the fines continue to accrue, and the owner doesn’t pay them, the city could place a lien on the property.

Neighbors said they hope the threat of losing their properties will force some landowners to be more selective about who they rent to.

“I think any kind of creative effort to get rid of these guys — or at least slow them down — is worth pursuing,” said Gierlach.

The owners of the property could not be reached for comment. They now have until June 24 to fix the violation or face fines.