State lawmakers are urging tenants who are behind on rent to take advantage of rental assistance and mediation programs in order to avoid a flood of evictions when Gov. David Ige’s eviction moratorium expires next month.
Ige reiterated Thursday that his moratorium on evictions for failure to pay rent will not be extended any further and will end at 11:59 p.m. Aug. 6.
“We do know that the pandemic is not over, but thanks to safe and effective vaccines, many more people are back at work and we have received significant emergency rental assistance funds from the federal government,” Ige said. “Renters and landlords have been encouraged to seek and accept rental relief being distributed in each and every county.”
Tracey Wiltgen, executive director of Honolulu corporation The Mediation Center of the Pacific, said there are an estimated 10,000 tenants in the state who are behind on their rent. However, not all of them will be in immediate danger of being evicted on Aug. 7 because of a bill Ige signed in June.
Act 57 temporarily modifies the process by which landlords can evict tenants, primarily by extending the required period to provide notice of eviction from five to 15 days. However, the act also states that, for the first month following the end of the moratorium, landlords can bring eviction proceedings to the court if the tenant in question is behind on rent by four months or more.
Beginning 31 days after the expiration of the moratorium — Sept. 6 — landlords can initiate eviction proceedings in court against tenants behind on rent by three months. Ninety-two days after the moratorium ends, or Nov. 6, eviction proceedings against tenants behind by two months’ rent can begin.
Proceedings against tenants behind by one month’s rent can begin on Jan. 6, or 153 days after the moratorium lifts.
Maui Rep. Troy Hashimoto said Act 57 is intended to prevent a year-long backlog of potential eviction cases from flooding the courts, which he said would be “chaos.”
However, Hashimoto said Act 57 will reduce the number of potential eviction cases even further by requiring landlords to seek mediation rather than immediately pursuing eviction as soon as it is an option. Using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act — $559,000 of which will go toward the Big Island — the state will fund mediation services until the end of 2022.
Under the bill, landlords are required to send eviction notices to both the tenant and a mediation center before filing any proceedings in court. After receiving this notice, the mediation center will notify the tenant within 15 days to schedule a mediation hearing.
“If the tenant doesn’t respond within that 15-day period, then the landlord is able to move forward with the eviction process,” Wiltgen said. “So we’re strongly encouraging … tenants to immediately respond when they receive a notice.”
If the tenant does accept the mediation hearing, the landlord will not be able to begin the eviction process for 30 days, Wiltgen said. Ideally, however, the tenant and landlord will come to an agreement at mediation and an eviction will be avoided completely.
Wiltgen said she anticipates 1,500 to 2,000 mediation notices will be sent statewide after Aug. 6, but said that, optimistically, only about 50% of those will lead to actual mediation hearings.
But despite the likelihood that the end of the moratorium will lead to a major influx of evictions — and, consequently, a rise in homelessness, Ige said he will extend the moratorium no longer.
“We don’t have perfect information,” Ige said. “We do know that we’ve made rental assistance available in every county for several months … All of us understand that we need to find out what the true situation is. And until we end the moratorium, we will not know how many people are behind on rent.”
Big Island financial assistance services can be found at hawaiicountyERAP.org. Mediation services in East Hawaii are available at hawaiimediation.org, and in West Hawaii at whmediation.org.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.