21 Things Every Renter Should Know

Tenants in Hawai‘i have a lot of rights on their side.

Renting has its challenges: finding the perfect place, competing with other people who think it’s their perfect place, and knowing that your time in your new home is limited to how long the owner wants you around. But don’t despair, renters. Local real estate laws ensure that tenants have rights—and they’re quite favorable. Tenants have the right to exclusive possession and quiet enjoyment of a leased property. Translation: The home you rent is yours to use exclusively, without interruption from your landlord. The following are a few tenant rights every renter should know.


renter agreement


But first: A signed agreement is a must. While a month-to-month rental does not require a written agreement, leases of a year or more do. Even a month-to-month rental favors a tenant in some ways. An owner must give you 45 days’ notice to vacate; you can leave any time within those 45 days and rent will have to be refunded/prorated to only cover the days you stayed. However, you can leave with as little as 28 days’ notice—but you don’t get to forgo any of the rent if you leave early.


As a renter, your landlord owes you a safe and healthy place to live and must arrange for necessary repairs to keep it in livable condition. You owe your landlord rent (on time) and proper care for the property. A landlord must give you two days’ notice prior to entering your home, and they must come at reasonable hours. They also must have a reason, like repairs or showing to potential renters/buyers, to enter the home. And they can’t show up so often it creates a hassle or feels like harassment.


If the home you just signed a lease for isn’t ready on the day it’s promised to you, you don’t have to pay rent for the days you can’t access it. Additionally, you can cancel your lease, or you can even get a hotel and bill the cost to the landlord.


Need repairs? If it’s urgent and necessary to make the rental habitable, like an electrical or plumbing issue, a landlord has three days from learning of the issue to begin repairs. If the issue is less urgent, a landlord has 12 days from receiving a written list from a tenant to begin repairs and must finish them as soon as possible. And if they don’t? Under Hawai‘i landlord-tenant rules, a tenant may make repairs themselves or hire someone to do it, then deduct the amount from the next month’s rent. Get two quotes and be prepared to submit a receipt.


What if the owner sells your place? Your lease is still valid. The new owner becomes your landlord and must honor your lease. When can you get out of a lease? If you’re in the military and receive orders requiring you to move off-island, you may cancel your lease with 28 days’ notice. If you’re not in the military, you are committed to the duration of the lease, although an owner may allow you to sublet.


And while we’d never advise it, renters who don’t pay are difficult to evict. Your landlord may start proceedings as early as five days after rent is due; however, it’s a costly court process to remove a tenant, and your landlord knows it. Many will work with you on reasonable requests if a payment is late to avoid the eviction process.


And about that deposit: Your landlord must either return it in full to you or provide the balance after any repairs/cleaning and a receipt for any amount deducted from the deposit, all within 14 days. If they don’t, you’re entitled to your full deposit back. A landlord can’t keep deposit money for anything considered reasonable wear and tear.


Before making any demands or repairs, check out Hawai‘i’s landlord-tenant code here.