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Summit brings new solutions for landlords

Annual event dispels myths about housing subsidies; offers tips to solve issues between landlords and tenants

KAHULUI — Open communication, operating in good faith and thorough lease agreements are among the keys that open the door for better landlord-tenant relationships in Maui County, a panel of legal experts said Wednesday.

Lawyers Loren Tilley, Benjamin Pittenger, Joshua James and Jason Economou discussed landlord and tenant rights and answered various questions at the fourth annual Maui Landlord Summit at Maui Beach Hotel on Wednesday in Kahului.

“Enter your agreement in good faith, get the agreement in writing, and then take good communications with your tenants,” said Pittenger, Maui attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. “Work with them so they stay a long time so you’re not losing rent in transition, and it will be a good relationship for both of you.”

The free annual event, sponsored by the Realtors Association of Maui in partnership with the County of Maui and the Maui Homeless Alliance, is designed to empower current and prospective landlords, as well as property managers, so they can help address the critical need for housing on Maui. This year, nearly 200 people attended, organizers said, the largest in event history.

Safe and affordable housing presents unique challenges for the county’s low-income or homeless individuals and families. Jamilla Prentice, a panelist who talked about her experience receiving social services, said communication can help dispel myths about housing assistance programs and the people who use them.

“Communication, that word has come up so much today,” she said. “When you communicate . . . you’re able to look past the label of HUD rental, which scares so many people, I’m not sure why. If you sit down and have a conversation with someone, you can see the whole picture and not just the stereotype.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing units are federally owned for lower-income families, and the Housing Choice Voucher / Section 8 lower-income housing program provides tenants with vouchers to rent private residences approved by local housing authorities.

Panelist and property manager Jessmine Kim, RAM’s 2018 “Housing Hero,” encouraged local landlords to step out of their comfort zones when it comes to renters with housing subsidies.

“I would like to tell other landlords to take a chance — that’s what I did with the first tenant that had third-party assistance,” she said during the summit. “It was a great experience. You have so many great programs out there that are helping tenants get back on their feet.”

RAM’s “Housing Hero,” which is now called “Landlord of the Year,” recognizes a landlord or property manager who actively works with social service agencies to find rentals for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. This year’s recipient was Leila Chin of Yoshida Realty Group, who was nominated by Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers.

For landlords looking to rent and tenants seeking financial aid, a wealth of community programs exist. Organizations like Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, Maui Economic Opportunity Inc., Catholic Charities of Hawaii and the Family Life Center offer security deposit and rental assistance. Legal Aid Services of Hawaii, the state’s oldest and largest nonprofit public interest law firm, provides help with landlord/tenant issues, evictions, repairs, illegal lockouts and utility shutoffs and security deposits, among other areas. Meanwhile, Mental Health Kokua operates a 24-hour support hotline.

Other groups that provided information at the 2019 summit included Asian Real Estate Association of America Aloha Chapter, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Women Helping Women.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said during the summit that the administration is looking into options “never done before” to alleviate the affordable housing crisis, such as working to provide tax credits for homeowners offering Section 8 rentals.

“I don’t need anybody to call for action — action needs to be now,” he said. “I am tired of waiting. I am going to do whatever possible with the help of the County Council and our agencies, Department of Housing and Human Concerns, state agencies. We need to work together.

“We don’t need glory, we need housing.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.