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Hawaii Examines Unsolicited Land Deals to Preserve Lahaina’s Local Ownership

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said that his administration has launched investigations into individuals who have made unsolicited offers for property in Lahaina, Maui, in violation of a new emergency order. The order aims to prevent land in the historic coastal community from being bought by outside buyers and aims to give residents time to decide what to do next. There has been concern that Native Hawaiians and local-born residents who have owned properties for generations might be pressured to sell, leading to the loss of their culture and contributing to the ongoing exodus of Hawaii’s people. Green mentioned that they’ve seen instances where people lose everything but their land, and someone swoops in and buys properties for very low prices. The authorities say that 115 people died in the fire, which destroyed about 1,800 to 1,900 homes in Lahaina. About 6,000 people are currently staying in hotels and vacation rentals while waiting for the cleanup and rebuilding to begin. Green had earlier contemplated imposing a moratorium on land sales but decided against it, as he didn’t want to prevent landowners from initiating property sales. The prohibition on unsolicited offers serves as a de facto moratorium. Anyone found guilty of violating this order may face imprisonment for up to one year and fines up to $5,000.

Lahaina resident Melody Lukela-Singh expressed disappointment that the governor didn’t impose an outright ban. She stated that outsiders should not have the opportunity to grab land or properties, particularly when emotions are high and everyone is vulnerable. Lukela-Singh, who is Native Hawaiian, plans to hold onto her land and would not sell it if any offers were made. State Rep. Troy Hashimoto commented that the prohibition on unsolicited offers is a nuanced approach that avoids bothering landowners who may not be ready to discuss property sales. Robert Thomas, director of property rights litigation at Pacific Legal Foundation, mentioned that the situation presents competing interests. While people have the right to decide what to do with their property, the government has an obligation to protect them from predatory behavior. Green had previously suggested the state acquiring land in Lahaina to ensure local people are not priced out of the community. However, he stated that the state would not proceed unless the community requested it. One possibility that is being considered is the formation of a land trust to buy properties from families who could later repurchase them.

Green is also considering setting up a “victim assistance fund” similar to the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which would provide compensation to those who suffered losses. The objective is to compensate people without the need for large payouts to middlemen such as attorneys who often take a significant percentage of legal settlements. Details of the fund are expected to be announced during an address on Sept. 8.

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