All Tenants Protected Through End of April, State Says

April 1, 2020, 6:40 PM HST (Updated April 1, 2020, 6:40 PM)
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Tenants need not worry about being removed from their homes for a lack of rent payment until April 30 at the earliest, according to Stephen Levins, director of the State Office of Consumer Protection.

Levins said that court orders, provisions activated by Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamations and guidelines under the federal CARES Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have “drastically changed the relationship between renters and tenants.

The State Judiciary has already ordered all actions related to the eviction process suspended until the end of April, meaning no one can be evicted during the in-between time save for a breach of contract.

“If you’re current, the landlord can’t put you out if you’re not in violation of material breach,” Levins said at a state press conference Wednesday afternoon. “Tenants have the right to remain (in their homes) if there is no material breach of lease.”

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He added that if a landlord has a mortgage that is subject to federal jurisdiction, a moratorium on all evictions for that property will remain in effect until the end of July. A substantial number of mortgages in Hawai‘i meet the relevant criteria, meaning the protection extends to several tenants in the state.

“If a tenant is having difficulty paying their rent, what they need to do is have a conversation with the landlord,” said Levins, adding that most landlords are willing to work with their tenants considering the circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. “The worst thing to do is just bury their heads in the sand and ignore the problem.”

The Office of Consumer Protection is developing a “Frequently Asked Questions” section on its website to help Hawai‘i residents understand how federal and state orders and proclamations impact their situations.

Tenants who have questions can contact the Consumer Protection Office at 808-586-2634, after which they will be connected with trained investigators familiar with state rental code who also have knowledge of how government action is impacting the landlord/tenant relationship in the time of coronavirus.

Levins added his department is “very concerned” scammers will be on the prowl as hundreds of thousands of Hawai‘i residents wait to receive stimulus checks from the government.

Consumer Protection has already identified attempted scams. Some residents have reported receiving emails from individuals posing as government officials and demanding financial information, threatening those residents that their checks will be withheld if they don’t share information like bank account numbers or online payment service account numbers.

“No one should provide any info to anyone who’s contacting you via the internet or over the phone,” Levins said.

“Don’t click on anything online. Don’t provide this information over the phone,” he continued. “The (stimulus) checks are going to be mailed or put (directly) into your checking account by the IRS. You don’t have to do anything.”

Jane Sawyer, district director of the US Small Business Association, also talked about a number of financial options for Hawai‘i entities struggling in the wake of coronavirus, including disaster loans.

Eligible for stimulus funds are companies with fewer than 500 employees, sole proprietors, independent contractors, the self-employed, nonprofits and others. Some businesses will be able to apply for loans beginning Friday, April 3. The rest will be eligible beginning April 10.

For more information and direct applications for assistance, check out this article published Wednesday on Big Island Now.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter, and radio talk show personality covering college athletics in Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing, and his work as a sports columnist.

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