Residential Zoning in Hawaii: Rules & Regulations

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Aloha. This is George Krischke with Honolulu HI 5 (company now called Hawaii Living). Today, we’re going to talk about residential zoning in Hawaii. The Land Use Ordinance, also called LUO, defines the different zoning districts in Hawaii. And each zoning district comes with respective restrictions on the usage, what you can use the land for,  what you can build on it, on setbacks, on height limits and so on.

The different zoning districts include the residential zone district, the apartment zone district, the resort zone district, the business zone district, the industrial district, the agricultural district and the preservation district. Each of these districts have their own sub-categories with respective requirements and limitations. Today, we’re just going to talk about the residential zone district. And the residential zone district has several subcategories such as the R3.5, R5, R7.5, R10 and the R20 subcategory. The “R” stands for “Residential” and the number behind it stands for the minimum square footage within that category.

For example, R5 means it is a residential-zoned lot. “R” stands for “Residential” and 5 stands for 5,000 square foot as the minimum size within that category. Now, there are some lots within R5 that actually are a little less than 5,000 square feet and that’s okay. Per 5,000 square feet within that R5 subcategory, you are allowed to build one house with one kitchen per 5,000 square feet. That is one house with one kitchen per 5,000 square feet. So, if the lot is zoned R5 and it has more square footage, let’s say it’s zoned R5 and it has 7,500 square feet or more, you may be able to build a duplex. That means two kitchens within the duplex. If the lot is zoned R5 and it has more than 10,000 square feet, you may be able to build two detached single family homes with each one having a legal kitchen. Now, whenever you buy a vacant lot or you want to remodel or expand your home, always check with a qualified licensed architect because there may be other restrictions besides what I just mentioned.

Other considerations include the sewer line capacity. Some neighborhoods have a moratorium where the sewer system is at capacity so you will not be able to add a bathroom or another toilet or another sink to your house. So, there’s other things to consider. So, sewer line capacity issues, utility hookup.. Is it possible to get utilities hooked up? What will it entail to do that? Driveway access, fire protection. Is there adequate fire hydrants in the neighborhood? Topography and additional neighborhood-specific covenants, conditions and restrictions. We call them “C, C and R’s.”

Now, we talked about one house with one kitchen. Some owners extend their house with an additional wet bar. A wet bar is not a full kitchen. A wet bar is a sink and a refrigerator. A full kitchen is a sink, a refrigerator and a stove/oven. So, some owners extend their home and build an additional wet bar in the back, put it on the building plans and after the final city inspection is completed, the owner turns the wet bar into an illegal kitchen.

They add another stove/oven to the wet bar and create another separate entrance and rent out that extension to a tenant. So, now, you have two kitchens within one house. That’s not legal. You’re only allowed to have one kitchen in that house. So, this may become an issue when the owner wants to sell a house. The appraiser looks at it, makes a note of it and sometimes, the stove/oven may need to be removed in order to turn the illegal kitchen into what used to be a legal wet bar.

Zoning laws can change. So, what used to be okay may not be okay today. So, for example, in the mid 1980’s, oceanfront setbacks have changed. They were increased to 40 feet. Now, some homes built, prior to that, were built a lot closer to the ocean and they were built legally back then and they’re now considered non-conforming with today’s zoning laws or zoning requirements. But they may be grandfathered. So, it’s okay to have those.

But what you need to be aware of is if you buy one of those grandfathered homes, you are not allowed to increase the square footage of the home within the setback. So, things can change. And in doubt, always check with your favorite, qualified, licensed architect before making any big purchases or making any big decisions on remodeling or extending or building your house.

And that’s it for today. Until next time. ~Aloha.

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40 thoughts on “Residential Zoning in Hawaii: Rules & Regulations

  1. Hello George,

    Have a 5,359 sqft with a bldg on it built in 1955 with an R-5 zoning, so it looks like it’s allowable to build one house with one kitchen per 5,000 square feet. Since it’s more than 5000 sqft though, is it allowable to build a duplex, or does sqft need to be 7500 minimum? Also, how does one find out about sewer line capacity and any moratorium?

  2. Hi George, i have a propery in Oahu and the Structure type is APARTMENTS – M-3. It is a mixed used apartment. It’s currently used as residential only. How do I re-zone it to 100% residential property? Who do I need to talk to or hire?

  3. So is there a law about how close u can plant on fence line ? Seems I read 2 ft on your side 2ft on their side ? Having a small issue with neighbor over keeping her stuff from growing on to my property , if I had the code I could reference it to her . Thank you

  4. Can u rent out tents on your property ?
    How many ? What about toilet facilities ?
    Can they just go to the local park ? Or outside ?

  5. I recently purchased the property next to my home. Our HOA has a 12′ easement from road in 12′. The neighbor on other side does not like the grass that goes wild in front so rather than ask he just goes and cuts, burns, weedwacks it all so that now the front of my property looks awful!..

    I’ve tried speaking to the neighbor but he’s rather unstable I think and does whatever he likes. I’ve asked the HOA to get involved also..they have spoken to him maybe a half hour ago and left and he’s still burning the ground..

    Now since the neighbor is doing this on my HOA’s easement what recourse do I have? and if he injures himself who is liable for that?

  6. Is it possible to charge for parking on my now empty residential property while we are deciding on our plans to build a home. We tore down the previous house and the area is a residential area with apartments and houses with very few street parking for the residents. Please educate me on this

    1. only 1 SFR. it’s one per 10,000 sqft. You would need to have at least 20,000sqft lot to build another dwelling

  7. Can you get a mortgage in an A1A or 2 zone on the big Island? I know that the lower the number the higher the risk.

  8. Hello George, my neighbor building make shift patio with recycled wood attached to home.are permits necessary? And who do I report this too?

  9. HI George,how are you?

    Can I build a home on P-1 Restricted Preservation land on Oahu?

    Will i be required to use some of the land as a farm?
    Thank you, I am in North County San Diego.
    Thank you for all your help.
    Larry Greene

  10. Aloha, purchasing a rundown home on Ft Weaver Rd. Ewa Beach R-5 7,200sf lot. Can I build an open space to teach martial arts?
    Master G

  11. Im trying to get a permit to build a new house in makakilo. And in the permit status Undee Remarks theres a note that says” ***Need pool letter***R5 Cluster to DLU” What does rhis mean? Thanks

  12. I live downwind of a 950 square foot home purchased in January of 2020 by a young woman who added a kitchen and bath unit to downstairs within weeks of moving in without a permit and rented it out to a single military man. Then they rented one bedroom to another young man with a dog who then moved his girlfriend in with her dog. Now they have asked if I am OK with the renters sister erecting a tent in the yard as the one bedroom is too small for three people.

    PS the owner also runs a massage business as well as a yoga business in the same house.
    I did have a run in with the owner when they lit a rather large fire in the yard to build a sweat lodge which encompassed multiple people and drums. Since we have no working hydrants in the area I did report this. I am at a loss of what to do at this point. Excepting for the fire hazard, I don’t want to complain but short of selling and moving, I don’t know what to do.
    I guess I just need to vent.

  13. I’m not sure why Honolulu has any laws for, no one enforces these ordinances. You can just drive around and see many laws broken. There’s no order in Hawaii our inspectors are corrupt.

  14. How can this ‘buyer’ get a permit to build two detached single homes on a lot with under 9,000 square feet? This property shares a private driveway with 2 other homes.
    My understanding this purchase is solely an investment for a quick profit too. The new owner does not even live here. Please advise.

  15. —Thank you for all your terrific questions and comments!
    We are dedicated to provide our clients with the most excellent service including researching any particular applicable zoning details. Contact us here when you are ready to buy or sell:
    However, time is our most precious limited resource. I regret, we can only do this detailed research for our clients. 😉 Otherwise, we recommend to contact your favorite qualified expert counsel or licensed architect. ~ Mahalo & Aloha

  16. If a single family dwelling is built on a lot with approximately 3747sq feet, leaving..08 remaining “yard space” , is this a legal built home? It is listed with LEGAL REALTY by a mr Jack legal who is a licensed realtor. The home is built in tge neighborhood behind theMIDAS and car dealerships near St Joseph church in waipahu. I’d like to hear your thoughts as we’ve requested a viewing as we’re interested in tbe house. Its listed so low im scared there’s a big “catch”thst something is wrong. Anyway plz reply when you have a moment. Tysm yvette

    1. We’re would I go to find out how high a some wall can be fronting the road Wai and are big warehouses allowed in residential lots

  17. i am interested in buying aproperty with two homes how do I know if they are both legal? AND if one is legal and the other NOT how can I make it legal? Thanks Jude

  18. Aloha George, if the ohana is detached is it required by law to have its own breaker box? (Maui county)

  19. Aloha George, if you have a stove instead of a refrigerator in your wet bar, is that legal? Mahalo!

  20. Very good definition of what is considered a full kitchen. Has the definition of a full kitchen changed now that it is 2018?

  21. Hi George, My client is looking at a house in Kamiloiki and the lot is 5,250 and the house is 1,411. Are you able to expand the house out to the 5 ft set back on the sides? I thought was was okay to do but the Contractor said he thought there was a rule where you house can only be so big depending on your lot size? This is an R-5 zoned home.
    Kelly Arita

  22. Residential homes. Is there a regulation that states that you cannot build on more than x% of your property?
    How far from your neighbor’s property line can one build?

  23. Hi George: now with ohana zoning and multigeneral homes ( pushed by the city) has the law changed involving the installation of a second kitchen?

  24. Great article George. Can the wet bar sink be a normal kitchen sink size? Moving a stove is so easy, the stove could be rolled out before a zoning inspection and put back in.

  25. Aloha George. In a 50.500 sq ft lot Zoned R-56 in Haleiwa, is more than one house permitted?

  26. Hi George, your article is very interesting. i want to know if the land can be seoarated on a 7500 sq foot home zoned g 7500