1. Know your rights
- Fair Housing Act
- Prohibits discrimination in housing because of race or color, national origin, religion, sex, familiar status (incl. children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians; pregnant women and people securing custody of children under 18) or handicap/disability. This act covers most housing but there are some exemptions for owner occupied buildings.
- You may register a complaint against a landlord who violated federal Fair Housing provisions with the Legal Aid Society of Hawai`i. On Oahu, call 808-527-8024, Neighbor Islands toll-free 1-866-527-3247
- Landlord Tenant Code
- The Handbook for the Hawaii Residential Landlord-Tenant Code published by the Office of Consumer Protection and the Communications Office of the State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
2. Unusual situations
In a normal landlord-tenant relationship, there is often very little interaction between the landlord and tenant. Communication is always limited to the tenant paying rent every month. If you receive any type of notice from your landlord saying that you have violated your lease, you should take it seriously.
If you are in violation of your lease, you usually have 5 - 10 days to fix the problem. Make sure that you do it promptly and do not violate the lease again in a similar manner. If you do not agree that you have violated the lease, dispute the violation in writing and try to resolve the issue with your landlord. If you live in subsidized housing where a hearing is available to resolve disputes, immediately request a hearing.
3. Illegal Discrimination
Housing discrimination based on your race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, sexual orientation, marital status, perceived gender identity, HIV infection, or disability is illegal. If you feel like your landlord is discriminating against you for any of these reasons, you should seek help in filing a fair housing complaint. Examples of discrimination may include "I'm not sure you would feel comfortable in this neighborhood" or "Families with children are not allowed to live on the second floor"
For help with housing discrimination, call 527-FAIR (3247) or 1-866-527-3247
4. Housing preservation
Some tenants of subsidized housing projects may face the loss of their housing if their project is sold, demolished, or converted to market rentals. These problems are not always avoidable, and addressing them promptly is the only way that there will be a chance the housing can be preserved. If a tenant or advocate learns that affordable housing is going to be lost, they should seek help from an attorney immediately.
5. Foreclosure rescue scams
Some people prey on homeowners who are facing foreclosure. Be careful of people who contact you claiming that they want to help you save your home, especially if they come knocking on your door. The end result will often be that you will lose your home and all the equity in it, which will go to the person that offered to help you. Alternatively, the scammer will charge substantial fees for providing a service of little or no value. If you are facing foreclosure and need help, actively seek organizations that can help you and check into the background of the person offering you their assistance. Do not wait for help to come to your door or mailbox.
6. Watch out for trouble landlords
Most landlords are good, understand their responsibilities as landlords, and treat their tenants well. However, there are some landlords who are overbearing and try to take advantage of their tenants. If you are unfortunate enough to get one of these landlords, your best option is to move. This is especially important if you have a Section 8 voucher where disputes with your landlord can result in termination of the voucher and loss of your housing subsidy.
If you live in subsidized housing, you generally do not have the option of moving. You should do everything you can to comply with your obligations as a tenant, even if you feel your landlord is not complying with theirs. Do not be afraid to contact others for help and stand up for your rights - just make sure that you are doing everything you need in order to comply with your part of the bargain.
7. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't
It is impossible to identify every housing-related problem that might arise for a tenant. As a rule of thumb, if something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. The law often, though not always, protects against gross unfairness. If you believe you are being treated unfairly or that your rights are being violated, get help.