Fairness critical on rental vouchers
Everyone knows phrases such as "innocent until proven guilty," and "due process under the law."
More than cliches, they're basic principles of justice that should be part of any fair administrative hearing system.
But, surprisingly, that hasn't been the case in landlord-tenant disputes on O'ahu involving federal Section 8 rental vouchers administered by the state for low-income tenants.
In cases where landlords claim tenants perpetrated some kind of property damage, the state has suspended a rental voucher automatically until the matter is resolved.
That action, however, practically presumes a tenant's guilt by the punitive act of suspending the voucher even before a hearing can be held. Tenants' due process rights were arguably diminished.
What's more, the lengthy time to resolve the issue could result in the tenant ultimately becoming homeless.
The state realized such a procedure was ripe for abuse by landlords against tenants, and has now changed the process for its 2,000 or so voucher holders.
Landlords now will be forced to go through the court system to prove claims against tenants. And tenants can stay put until the case is resolved.
The city, which administers some 4,000 vouchers on its own, has a different process. Debbie Kim Morikawa, director of community services for the city, said Honolulu generally does not suspend rental vouchers in cases of dispute. The city conducts investigations and makes parties settle any disputes in court. But there have been cases when vouchers were suspended until a final resolution.
When that happens, it shows the city's process can be arbitrary and open to inconsistency. A temporary loss of a voucher can be devastating for some. Vouchers are hard to come by; the waiting period to get a voucher is at least 10 years.
By changing the voucher suspension process the state has established a better way to deal with rental disputes. What's needed now is for the city and state to get in sync and ensure the process is fair for tenants and landlords alike.