Unsafe Housing Conditions in Kalihi?

by Dr. Arcelita Imasa

I heard something about the issue of unsafe housing conditions for our Micronesian brothers and sisters in Kalihi. Do you have more information on it?
– Reader

Dear Reader,

Thank you for your question and for seeking more information about this very important issue in our neighborhood.

There are renters and community leaders who are currently fed up with the unsafe living conditions at a Young Street apartment complex in Honolulu where the landlord has cut off electricity, disconnected water service and has failed to conduct basic repairs such as replacing missing doors and windows. Tenants of the 1738 Young St. apartment, supported by the Compact of Free Association (COFA) Workers Association, and community and elected leaders, are calling on state and city leaders to hold unscrupulous landlords accountable for keeping their rental units in a safe and habitable condition.

The residents allege that back in the beginning of September, the apartment owner turned off the water for nearly 11 days as some renters had to resort to borrowing water from neighbors. They also allege that the landlord turned off the water in early August after tenants provided a demand letter that she make repairs to the property.

A state district court judge issued a temporary injunction against the illegal utility shut-off on September 7, 2023, but the six-unit apartment complex still has missing doors and windows, and basic kitchen appliances are in disrepair.

According to tenant Nancy Agripah, their bathtub is so broken that they can’t shower inside their home. She tried to talk to the landlord to ask to fix their bathtub, sink, and toilet.

She also complained about their windows being broken, not having a front door and the rain coming inside their house. But she was ignored.

Another resident Abelrina Kirielmo said residents have been using lanterns and a portable stove for months as the landlord has refused to fix electrical problems within the unit. Kirielmo added that the rat problem is terrible.

Unfortunately, Robert Kirielmo, husband of Alberina, who also is president of the COFA Workers Association, said the owner retaliated against his family and other residents by threatening eviction after they wrote a letter on June 1 asking for basic repairs.

Several members believe unscrupulous landlords such as the owner of their building use cultural and language barriers and weak landlord-tenant laws to exploit Hawaiʻi’s Micronesian community.

The COFA Workers Association, a project of the Hawaii Workers Center, was started by community leaders from member nations belonging to the Compact of Free Associations to organize their community for their own social, economic, and political well-being, is calling for stronger protections.

Starting with having City or state housing inspectors to ensure apartment complexes are not only up to code but habitable with water, electricity, and plumbing.

The association is also calling for stiffer penalties against landlords who fail to make the basic repairs. As it stands, the landlord-tenant code allows for only $500 to be deducted from rent if the tenant makes the repairs.

For Hawaii Workers Center, we believe that if we want to prevent homelessness, we need to start enforcing basic habitability laws against these bad landlords. They cannot continue to simply kick tenants out on the streets when tenants ask for repairs.

We hope this is the beginning of a much-needed dialogue between the city and the state on how we can improve the living conditions of our renters in Hawaii, especially for our most vulnerable communities.

Sincerely,
Hawaii Workers Center

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DR. ARCELITA IMASA 
is a practicing family physician and the secretary of the Hawaii Workers Center’s Executive Committee of the Board. She grew up in the Philippines before migrating to Hawaii with her family more than a decade ago.

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