The city levies big fines against homeowners — and then waives most of them

Published: Oct. 31, 2017 at 10:30 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 1, 2017 at 8:26 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the past eight years, the former owners of a Waikiki property on the corner of Kalaimoku and Kuhio streets have been accruing fines at a rate of $100 per day, for a variety of land use violations.

Just weeks before the property owners sold the now-vacant parcel for $2 million, they agreed to settle their case with the city, paying just $30,000 to cover the fines – about a tenth of the $299,000 in fines originally levied by the city.

Critics say these types of settlements do nothing to deter building code and land use violations.

"The fines and violations systems are actually ... totally meaningless, have no teeth," said Waikiki community activist David Moskowitz, who used to live across the street from the parcel.

Hawaii News Now has learned that since July, the city's Department of Planning and Permitting has waived more than $1 million in fines to close out more than 20 cases involving a range of violations, from illegal vacation rentals to improper construction.

Moskowitz said the Waikiki case was one of the worst he's seen. He said he filed complaints against the former owners more than six years ago after the parcel's sewage pipe broke, leaking raw sewage into the ground.

"It was percolating raw sewage. The whole neighborhood could smell it ... You could see pools of sewage," he said. "Exposed raw sewage, like really exposed, like third world country exposed."

The city had no immediate comment, but has in the past said that its goal is to get the violators to comply with the law. It has said the bigger fines may be lowered to close long-standing violations and to reduce backlogs.

The former property owners could not be reached. The buyers are a Japanese company that has plans to redevelop the parcel.

A real estate representative for the company said the past violations have been resolved by the previous owner.

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