By Associated Press - Monday, May 4, 2020

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - Tenants and landlords have been offered free mediation services by a Hawaii County program aimed at preventing a flood of evictions following an eviction ban during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rapid Response Landlord Tenant Mediation Program intends to help residential and commercial tenants and landlords reach agreements about individual cases rather than resorting to legal action, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

Democratic Gov. David Ige issued a moratorium last month outlawing eviction of residential tenants for failing to pay rent through May 31 as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has left many residents furloughed or unemployed.

Once the moratorium ends, tenants who were unable to pay rent will have overdue payments due all at once, Hawaii County Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said.

“We want to get ahead of this tsunami of evictions that’s coming,” Kierkiewicz said.

Hawaii County, the Hawaii Community Foundation, Hawaii County Realtors, and the West Hawaii Association of Realtors partnered to develop the program.

The Kuikahi Mediation Center and the West Hawaii Mediation Center plan to offer free mediation services through the initiative.

Many landlords cannot afford to lose tenants, while tenants could experience difficulty paying months of back rent at once, so both parties should be motivated to reach an agreement, said Julie Mitchell, executive director of the Kuikahi Mediation Center.

“It can be hard to talk about money, especially when there’s a perception of this power differential like between landlord and tenant,” Mitchell said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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