My question involves landlord-tenant law in the State of: Hawaii
Thanks for taking the time to read about my issue. Unfortunately, I am being sued for damages to a rental property (all their damage claims were preexisting prior to our move in), and don’t know what to do. I also can’t afford a lawyer.
Here is a brief history. You can skip to the end if you want to see my main argument/question.
I was living in a rental property with two friends, (total of 3 occupants). Here is a list of relevant events.
1. We have a do on premises and it bit the downstairs tenant. We removed the dog from the property within 4 days.
2. Landlord files a complaint for having a dog on premise. Her claim is that we cannot have a dog on premise. However the leases states exactly the following: “Tenant may (may not) maintain a dog on premise”. However the landlord gave us oral permission to have a dog at the house prior to move in. We went to court and the judge threw out the complaint because the landlord never gave us 10 day notice as required by law.
3. Landlord hires attorney, we received another complaint. I assumed the complaint would get dismissed again because we still had not received 10 day notice to cure. During the complaint hearing the judge recognized that we never received a 10 day notice and even asked their lawyer where the 10 day notice is, their lawyer could not produce it. However the judge withheld the complaint, said that “you may have a tough time during the trial without proof of 10 day notice”, then the judge scheduled a pretrial hearing. Here is the real kicker, the very next day after the complaint hearing we received a letter in our mailbox from the lawyer stating that we have 10 days to cure the lease violations starting the day we received the letter! How can we have a pretrial hearing when we are still within a 10 day period to cure?WTF???
4. We go to pretrial (with no lawyer) and I’m feeling pretty good that the evidence we have shows that the landlord never gave us proper notice to cure, even if she did our lease specifically states that we can have a dog on premise, and if the judge disagrees, we have proof that the dog had already been removed, so all problems resolved. However, during the hearing the judge is adamant that there is no cap on lawyer fees for eviction cases in Hawaii and it’s in our best interest to settle. The mediator told us the same thing. I got a little nervous because it seemed like the lawyer was getting preferential treatment during both the complaint hearing and pretrial hearing. We couldn’t come to an agreement during pretrial so we schedule a trial.
5. A few days fter discussing the whole situation with my roommates we decide that it’s not worth the risk fighting the complaint, they made it clear that they were going to file another complaint even if we won.
6. So we agree to vacate the premises under the condition that we can defer our current months’ rent. They agree and let us know that as long as the property is clean and there is no damage they will not seek any damages.
7. We vacate the premises, the landlord comes over for the last walkthrough, during the walkthrough the landlord mentioned a couple issues, (a damaged door) not more than $100 worth of clean up or damage. We agree to take care of it and she said not to worry about it. I recorded the entire walkthrough on my iphone so we have a record of her checking the property and letting us know the issues she saw.
8. We paid our deferred rent payment with the deposit. At this point I think we are all done because there was no damage and the property was cleaned. I follow up to check the status to make sure they don’t want some money to fix a slightly damaged door. I get an email back saying please include the following for exhibit C for the pretrial hearing. We received two invoices that include hardwood flooring refurbishing and plumbing work, a total of $4,000.00 roughly. The email also mentions that we still need to resolve the lawyer fees that need to be paid.
9. Now I have a pretrial hearing scheduled.
Here is why the repair bills are so shocking. When we moved into the property the flooring was already heavily damaged and scraped up. We did not cause the damage to the flooring, it was already there. I think the landlords lack of a reaction and lack of mentioning the flooring during the walkthrough would prove that floor damage was preexisting. There is no way someone wouldn’t mention $3000.00 in floor damage. Also, the plumbing work was another preexisting issue already there when we moved in. The landlord had plumbers come over to the property 8-9 times to work on a leaky pipe. I kept all the hand written noticed that the landlord left on the premise showing the schedule dates and what the plumbers were coming to fix.
So here are my main questions. I am in a little bit of a different situation then the other two roommates.
1. I NEVER SIGNED THE LEASE. When I personally moved into the property the other two roommates had already signed a 1 year lease agreement with the landlord. The landlord knew I was coming and was going to come over after I moved in and have me sign the lease. However she never came and I never signed the lease. Is there any way I can absolve myself their erroneous damage claim since I never signed the lease?
2. Also, the landlord left us with a worksheet to complete which showed the condition of the house prior to move in. We completed it; however she was going to pick it up when she came over to have me sign the lease. But she never did. So we have a completed worksheet showing that mostly everything in the house was dirty or needs repair. But the landlord never signed it. I also have all the written plumbing work notices starting the second month we were in the house. Is this enough to prove we are not responsible for the damage?
Any advice would be appreciated since I can’t afford any more legal counsel. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks!