It’s been nearly two weeks since a federal eviction moratorium to protect renters was lifted by the US Supreme Court, but the ruling doesn’t seem to have sparked a wave of eviction notices in Hawaii.
In April 2020, Governor David Ige instituted a nationwide eviction moratorium in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic stalemate in Hawaii that left many residents unemployed. The moratorium was extended and Ige later announced it would end on August 6th.
Renters were still protected, however, as on August 3, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a federal eviction moratorium that would end on October 6, pending the Supreme Court ruling on August 26.
However, since then, there appears to have been no evictions in Hawaii.
“Interestingly, we haven’t been inundated with cases as expected,” said Tracey Wiltgen, executive director of the Mediation Center of the Pacific, a nonprofit that provides mediation services for landlord-tenant disputes.
“We expected it last week when they announced the end of the CDC (moratorium). We expected it this week and we didn’t see it. … Maybe we just won’t get a large number, ”she said.
Wiltgen is still trying to come up with an explanation for why there hasn’t been a wave of evictions, but said there could be a variety of reasons. Landlords and tenants could come to terms with each other, but it could also be that many tenants have returned, sought rental assistance or simply moved out of their own accord.
The overlapping deadlines of state and federal moratoriums also created confusion, so landlords may be reluctant to evict.
“The federal moratorium was in place until last week and no one had any idea what was going on, so many landlords probably wanted to wait and see,” said Phil Garboden, professor in the University of Hawaii’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, which focuses on housing issues , in an email.
Another reason could be that the legislature passed Law 57 this year, which aims to slow down the eviction process and promote mediation between landlords and tenants.
The new law does so primarily through temporary changes to the state’s landlord-tenant code, three of which do the most work, according to Dan O’Meara, executive attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s Housing and Consumer Unit.
The first extends the notice period from five to 15 days and requires that the information in the notice be passed on to an arbitration board that handles disputes between landlords and tenants. The second requires landlords to engage in mediation, if planned by a tenant, before going to court and proceeding with the eviction process.
Finally, evictions are staggered according to how far behind the tenants with their rent, with those who owe the most facing the first possible measures.
Specifically, Law 57 states that landlords can go to court until the first and 30th days after the state moratorium ends, August 6, to evict tenants who owe at least four months’ rent. In the following two months it is the tenants who are behind with three months ‘rent and in the two months after that two months’ rent.
In the final phase, landlords can sue any tenant who owes at least one month’s rent.
While some evictions have been completely avoided through mediation or changes in individual circumstances, others may simply have been simply delayed.
O’Meara, who has seen a slight increase in eviction cases recently, said it was not clear if there will be a rush of evictions as many have feared, but the numbers are expected to be in the next few weeks will return to, and likely to exceed, pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s either the calm before the storm or the storm won’t happen. Everyone is preparing for a hurricane hoping it avoids us because of the rental support, but we don’t really know, “O’Meara said, later adding,” We don’t really see the big increases, and when it does, it does will begin in the next two or three weeks. “
He reported that the eviction rate, based on court records, has fallen to 37% pre-pandemic in Hawaii and 28% in Oahu. There were 204 nationwide and 147 Oahu evictions per month before the COVID-19 outbreak, and only 76 and 42 respectively during the outbreak.
It is not exactly clear how many people in Hawaii are currently struggling to pay the rent. Garboden said that only one “very inaccurate” data set tracks the percentage of households that are late with renting every two weeks to make these estimates.
But based on his interpretation of this data, Garboden said that around 10 to 14%, or around 17,000 to 24,000 households, are late with their rent each month. Those numbers drop to about 6% to 9%, or 10,000 to 13,000 households, when the two weeks land at the end of the month. He described the latter group as “significant” with the rent.
“It is undeniable that a large number of tenants are struggling to get rent and hopefully the placement process can link them to rental support,” said Garboden.
The pandemic has weighed on both landlords and tenants, and ideas about what to do in the future are divided.
Groups like the Honolulu Tenants Union and AF3IRM Hawaii, a tenant-led feminist activist organization, called on Friday for Ige to reinstate the Hawaii eviction moratorium.
“For a single mother who is about to be evicted by a bad faith landlord, mediation is meaningless. Mediation only delays the inevitable, ”said Alexandra Balgos, an AF3IRM coordinator, in a statement. “If Governor Ige is serious about homelessness and women’s safety, he must take preventive measures immediately.”
Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for Ige, said in an email: “There are currently no plans to reinstate the eviction moratorium.”
“Reg. Ige is making progress in the implementation of the law passed by the legislator, which includes the new mediation requirements. He encourages tenants to apply to the counties for emergency rent and advises that the counties still have funds to allocate, “Leong said.
As of December, Hawaii has received $ 166 million from the American Rescue Plan for rental and utility assistance and $ 200 million from the Consolidated Appropriations Act for the Emergency Rental Assistance program.
While legal aid helps tenants, O’Meara said the end of the eviction moratorium is inevitable and tenants still have tools, particularly Act 57, to better deal with possible evictions.
“I wouldn’t mind if (the moratorium) was back because that’s just more chances for tenants to stay, but I also understand that it would end anyway,” he said. “It’s not really any different from anywhere else in the country – it happens everywhere. Hawaii at least has this legislation. “
O’Meara said about half of tenants brought to court for non-payment of rent never show up and automatically lose their homes.