In this article we will review Hawaii law regarding retention of rental security deposits.  

Security Deposit – Money given by the tenant to the landlord to remedy tenant defaults for damages, for failure to pay rent, for failure to return keys at termination of the rental agreement, to put the unit in as clean a condition at the end of the tenancy as it was at the start, except for normal wear and tear; and to compensate for damages by a tenant who wrongfully quits the dwelling unit.   

Amount of Deposit – The total amount of all deposits may not be in excess of one month’s rent. This includes the security deposit and any deposits for keys, pets, or anything else. The tenant may not use the deposit as payment for the last month’s rent unless the landlord agrees in writing.  

Retention of Deposit – If the landlord has lawful grounds to retain all or any portion of the security deposit, the landlord must notify the tenant in writing of the reasons for retention.  Any costs, such as cleaning or specific repairs, must be itemized and copies of receipts included. If the repairs cannot be accomplished within the 14 days, estimates for the cleaning or repair services may be substituted. 

The notice, and any portion of the security deposit remaining, after deductions, must be given to the tenant within 14 days after the termination of the rental agreement. In order to comply with this 14-day requirement, the landlord may mail the material to the tenant on or before the fourteenth day. The landlord should obtain acceptable proof of mailing from the Post Office. 

The landlord may also prove compliance with the 14-day requirement by other types of evidence, such as the tenant’s acknowledgment or the testimony of a witness. If notice, including the return of any remaining security deposit, is not accomplished within 14 days, all of the security deposit shall be returned to the tenant. 

Limitation Period to Recover Deposit – Any action by the tenant to recover all or any portion of the security deposit must be commenced within one year from the date the rental agreement terminated. 

Security Deposit Disputes – Legal action involving security deposit disputes may be undertaken by either party only in small claims court. In this type of small claims court action, lawyers are not allowed to represent either party. Where the court determines that the landlord wrongfully and willfully retained all or part of the security deposit, it may award the tenant damages equal to THREE times the security deposit, or part thereof, plus the cost of the suit. 

If the landlord is found to have retained the security deposit lawfully, it shall award the landlord damages equal to the portion of the security deposit, or part thereof, in dispute plus the cost of the suit. 

In closing, know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Care for your rental property as if it were your own. Be armed with knowledge if you run into an unscrupulous landlord and most importantly take timely action when needed, it can make the difference of getting your deposit back.

Image Credit: Michelle Del Rosario

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