No eviction spike in Hawaii after moratoriums end

HONOLULU — Hawaii has not experienced a large spike in evictions despite the expiration of both state and federal moratoriums meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect renters during the coronavirus pandemic economic downturn.

Tracey Wiltgen, executive director of the Mediation Center of the Pacific, said her organization has handled more cases but not as many as she anticipated, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

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Between Aug. 7 and Oct. 2, the center opened 565 eviction cases for mediation. That was fewer than the 1,000-1,500 cases the center had expected. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Wiltgen said, the center mediated about 200 eviction cases per month.

A state-level moratorium ended Aug. 6. A few weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal moratorium that was announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

David Chee, an attorney who mostly represents landlords, said some cases are being kept out of court because tenants are choosing to leave their units without fighting the eviction.

“A lot of tenants have just run away,” Chee said. “So once the moratoriums were done, a lot of tenants, as soon as they figured out their landlords were going to evict them, just simply left.”

A new state law guiding landlords and tenants into mediation to prevent evictions may be contributing.

Act 57 requires landlords to notify a mediation center if they are terminating a rental agreement to prevent landlords from going directly to court. It also delays when a landlord may take possession of a unit if a tenant schedules mediation, potentially giving tenants time to work things out.

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Wiltgen said meditations have had a 90% success rate since the law took effect. Before the pandemic, tenants and landlords made some kind of agreement only about 52% of the time, she said.

She said before the pandemic, mediation was a 20-minute meeting between landlords and tenants usually done outside a courthouse, while now they’re Zoom sessions that are closer to a 1 1/2-hour or even two-hour session. Many agreements end up with tenants getting rental assistance, Wiltgen said.

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