Homeowners should be able to make basic repairs without a permit

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Honolulu City and County Council on March 15, 2023.

March 15, 2023
10 a.m.
Honolulu City Council Chambers

To: Honolulu City and County Council
      Tommy Waters, Chair
      Esther Kia‘aina, Vice Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
           Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Comments Only

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer comments on Bill 56 (2022), which would allow Honolulu County residents greater freedom to repair their homes without obtaining a building permit.

As the Council is aware, the Honolulu County Department of Planning and Permitting faces a backlog of many thousand permits and the permitting backlog sits at roughly 200 days.[1]

Those numbers are staggering on their own, but they also represent a real human cost.

There is no way to quantify the harm this permit backlog has inflicted, but there is no doubt that fewer kitchens have been remodeled, fewer windows installed and fewer home projects in general initiated because of the delays.

For construction contractors and workers, the delays have meant a loss of business and a loss of jobs because their customers — businesses and homeowners — did not receive their building permits in a timely manner.

Making matters worse, the costs of the permit delays are being aggravated by snowballing inflation. Businesses and homeowners wanting to renovate their properties have seen building material prices skyrocket this year, and labor costs have increased substantially too.

That is why the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii welcomes Bill 56 as a way to speed up home renovations, make our economy more efficient and get people back to work.

As drafted, Bill 56 would remove the requirement that homeowners obtain permits for repairs costing more than $5,000 a year. This outdated, arbitrary figure unjustifiably limits homeowners’ private property rights and raises the time and cost to complete home repairs.

The $5,000 figure would be replaced by language allowing homeowners to do basic maintenance on their own homes without a permit.

Such maintenance would include projects “that involve only the replacement of component parts of existing work with similar materials for the purpose of maintenance, without limit as to valuation.”[2]

In real terms, that means Honolulu County residents could replace their flooring without having to wait 200 days and pay hundreds of dollars of fees for a permit.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.


Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1]Update from the Department of Planning and Permitting on Building Permit Process Backlog,” Honolulu City and County Council hearing, Feb. 9, 2022. See the 1:48:00 timestamp.

[2] Bill 56 (2022), p. 2.

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