The Hawaii eviction process is one whereby a landlord follows statutory guidelines in removing a tenant from a leased apartment or unit, usually for nonpayment of rent or for violating a term of the lease agreement.
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A tenant cannot be summarily removed without a court judgment. Prior to a judgement or Writ of Possession from a court, the landlord cannot remove any of the tenant’s property or change the locks, as this would violate the tenant’s rights of possession and subject the landlord to penalties.
Choosing the Proper Hawaii Eviction Notice
To begin the Hawaii eviction process, the landlord must first give the tenant proper notice. If the lease has expired, however, the landlord need not give written notice at all.
For all other reasons, the Hawaii eviction notice must be in writing and allow a certain number of days to either vacate the unit or correct the reason for the eviction notice. The eviction notice can be served on the tenant personally, given to another person of suitable age who also lives in the unit, or posted on the door. The following specific number of days are required to give the tenant time to respond:
Non-payment of rent: 5 business days (5-Day Notice)
Lease violation: 10 days (10-Day Notice)
Month-to-month: 45 days (45-Day Notice)
Week-to-week: 10 days (10-Day Notice)
Should the tenant fail to correct or remedy the reason for the Hawaii eviction notice within the allotted day, the landlord will have to file a complaint in court.
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Complaint for Summary Possession
The next step according to the Hawaii eviction laws is the filing and serving of the Complaint for Summary Possession in local court. On filing, the court clerk will stamp or indicate a trial date and issue a Summons that is served on the tenant. Some courts mail the court date to the tenant. If the eviction is in Honolulu, the next court date is noted or it may advise the tenant to appear on the fifth day after receipt of the notice, meaning 5 business days.
First Court Appearance
The Summons will have a date whereby the tenant must appear in court along with the landlord, called the Answer Date. The tenant can contest the reason for the eviction or gain additional time by entering a General Denial plea without saying anything more. If the eviction is for nonpayment of rent and the tenant admits to this, the judge can immediately order the tenant to vacate the unit as soon as an order is entered.
The tenant has the option of appearing in court and presenting a check or cash for the rent owed if nonpayment is the reason for the eviction so long as it is presented before the court issues a Writ of Possession.
Should the tenant fail to appear at the Answer Date or the Trial, the court will enter a Default Judgment. Similarly, if the landlord fails to appear, the court will dismiss the complaint and the landlord will have to begin the process again.
If a default is entered for the landlord, the judge will issue a Writ of Possession. This order may also indicate that the tenant owes for back rent along with costs of filing the complaint, service costs, repair expenses and attorney’s fees. The landlord can use the sheriff’s department or police to remove the tenant and all of his or her possessions, which will be stored at the tenant’s expense. If the reason for the eviction is for nonpayment of rent, the landlord can start a garnishment process to take a certain portion of the tenant’s wages each pay period to satisfy the judgment.
In Honolulu only, if you enter a General Denial plea, the court will enter schedule a Pre-Trial Hearing date for the following Monday. At this hearing, both you and the landlord advise the judge what witnesses or other evidence you plan to introduce at the trial.
All Other Jurisdictions
Once you enter the General Denial plea in any court other than in Honolulu, the court will set a Trial Date, which may be as soon as the following business day or within 2 weeks.
Alternative Dispute Process
The Hawaii eviction process also permits the judge to request the parties to meet with a mediator in certain cases before the Trial or Pre-Trial Date. The mediator listens to the arguments of both parties and tries to facilitate a reasonable settlement. The mediator cannot issue any rulings or orders and the parties are not obligated to enter into any agreement.
Eviction Trials are bench trials, meaning they are held before a judge only. Like any other trial, both parties present witnesses and documentary evidence and may cross-examine the other party’s witnesses.
Writ of Possession and Judgment
If the landlord prevails, the court will issue a Writ of Possession and a Judgment for Possession. A sheriff’s deputy or police officer will serve this on the tenant while giving the tenant some time to move out. If the tenant does not leave, the deputy or officer can physically remove the tenant and store all possessions. The tenant must pay the storage charges and remove these items within a certain time or the landlord can sell or dispose of them.
Payment of Damages
If the tenant loses at trial, the court can order payment of damages, which can include rent and late fees, attorney’s fees if an attorney was hired by the landlord, filing and sheriff’s fees for service, and holdover rent. Holdover rent is the rent the tenant owes for staying over the time the lease agreement ended. Interest is added as well.
Should any damage to the unit be claimed by the landlord and included in the Complaint, this is also awarded.
Appeals are Rare
If a tenant loses a Hawaii eviction case, the tenant may file a Motion for Reconsideration with the trial court and ask the judge to stay enforcement of the Writ of Possession. The tenant would have to allege fraud or that newly discovered evidence not available at the time of trial is sufficient to overturn the ruling. A successful appeal is rare.
For more information on Hawaii Eviction and Hawaii Landlord Tenant issues, check out this valuable handbook about the Hawaii Landlord Tenant Code put out by the Hawaii state government.