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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.

Residential Zoning in Hawaii: Rules & Regulations was last modified: September 6th, 2021 by George Krischke
George Krischke
Principal Broker (R) Hawaii Living See my other articles

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