I heartily applaud your enthusiasm for trying to change the current
building permit policy in Hawaii! You are certainly correct that the
state requires licensed electrical and plumbing contractors to pull
separate permits for the plumbing and electrical portion of
construction. This is a very frustrating situation for owner-builders
who desire to save money by doing their own electrical and plumbing
While you COULD start your own grassroots movement, it would
certainly be more expeditious to team up with, attend meetings, and
voice your concerns to existing groups that are already active in this
issue, IF THEY EXIST. If you are currently residing in Hawaii, you may
have heard some "grumblings" here and there. I imagine, however, that
the number of people who are currently concerned about this
high-priced permit snag are relatively few. Most people prefer to have
their homes built for them and are not affected by these regulations.
The permit requirements you are concerned with are included in the
state statutes (not the Building Code) and would thus require a policy
change at the state rather than the local level. As far as government
is concerned, once laws are in place, it is far easier to leave them
be than to remove them. Therefore, change in the building permit
policy will not likely come from the government level. It will have to
be initiated by a loud and powerful citizen outcry accompanied by a
bill proposal to amend the current state statute. And....you will be
fighting the unified power of licensed plumbers and electricians along
Laws do get changed, however, and ordinary citizens are often the
reason. Therefore, your infectious enthusiasm may be just what is
needed to rally others to unite and demand a policy change.
So, where do you start? In order to answer your question, I put
myself in your place, as if I had recently moved to Hawaii, and tried
to formulate a strategy I would follow to get people interested in
effecting a change in the permit requirements.
To summarize the steps I would take if I were in your shoes:
1. Familiarize myself with the local and state laws and policies
regarding construction permits
2. Be on the lookout for established groups and individuals who might
align with my cause
3. Contact individuals and groups to generate support
4. Attend any organized meetings which might be profitable to my cause
5. Submit letters and articles to local newspapers, magazines and
6. Organize enough supporters to propose a bill to amend the state
statutes regarding permit requirements
BASIC BACKGROUND CONCERNING BUILDING CODES AND PERMITS
First, I would familiarize myself with the building codes and state
statutes which apply to owner-builders so I could be armed with
In order to be certain about the current permit situation, I made
several phone calls to agencies in Hawaii to get a bit of background.
Most of these calls were inefficient, however, since I ended up
talking to front desk personnel when the actual individuals that could
have helped me were in meetings, gone, or on the phone. All the while,
I was too mindful of the long-distance bill!
Though you are already familiar with the current codes and
legislation, I am going to post some references as a first step.
HAWAII STATE STATUTES
I called the State of Hawaii Division of Commerce and Consumer
Affairs to inquire about building permit regulations. I had hoped that
an individual owner-builder might be exempt from hiring a licensed
plumber and electrical contractor, but that is not the case.
According to CHAPTER 444 - CONTRACTORS SECTION 444-1 Definitions
444-2 Exemptions No. 7 http://www.hawaii.gov/dcca/pdf/hrs_pvl_444.pdf
* an owner builder is still required to use the services of a licensed
plumber and electrician. *
The Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs website:
The List of Hawaii Revised Statutes:
The brochure, "Owner-Builders in Hawaii - A Guide to State
Regulations" spells out these requirements in greater detail:
"As an owner-builder, a homeowner acts as its own contractor. When the
homeowner applies for a permit, the homeowner is asked to identify all
subcontractors who will be working on the project, * specifically the
electrical and plumbing contractors. These subcontractors must be
See the brochure for further details on the Owner-Builder Process.
COUNTY OF HAWAII BUILDING CODE AND PERMITS
The County of Hawaii utilizes the Uniform Building Code:
Building Permit Information for the County of Hawaii is available from
the Department of Public Works - Building Permits:
How to Obtain a Building Permit (from the Uniform Building Code):
FIND ALLIES TO RALLY FOR LEGISLATIVE CHANGE
Since you are in Hawaii (I assume) and I am not, you will be far more
efficient in contacting certain individuals and agencies that might
provide additional necessary information and support for your cause.
While I would love to make some further phone calls, I am already
afraid to see my phone bill :)
This is the group most affected by the State statutes, but probably
the hardest to identify. Anywhere you can find mention of owner
builders, you will my find a potential source of interested parties.
For example, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands recently held a
groundbreaking for a new subdivision on Maui. While you are interested
in the "Big Island", all Hawaiian owner-builders are affected by the
permit rule (unless there is a low-income exemption buried in other
legislation). It would behoove you to gather names on petitions from
people involved in similar projects.
"When complete, the new subdivision will encompass a total of 115
single-family lots. It will provide 77 two, three and four-bedroom
affordable turnkey houses for sale and 38 vacant lots for
owner-builder construction, wherein lot owners construct their houses
to match their financial capability."
"First DHHL Project Under New Administration." Dept. of Hawaiian
Homelands (August 2003)
Groups involved in the Self Help Housing Program may be very
interested in legislative change. Each of these organizations is
involved in helping prospective homeowners to build their own houses.
* As a group that has formed around keeping homebuilding affordable,
they might be a viable contacts to discuss the formation of a
grassroots group aimed at changing the building code requirements.
Hawaii Self Help Housing
Claudia Shay, Executive Director
1427 Dillingham Blvd., Suite 305
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
(808) 842-7111 firstname.lastname@example.org
Read "Hawaii Self Help Housing" at
The following additional references were taken from the article "The
2002 Mutual Self Help Housing Program."
Hawaii Island Community Development Corporation
Keith Kato, Executive Director
99 Aupuni Street, Room 104
Hilo, HI 96720808/969-1158, email@example.com
Ilima Corporation of Hawaii
Steve Kuna, Executive Director
1120 C Wainiha Street
Honolulu, HI 96825808/256-5862 firstname.lastname@example.org
Kauai Habitat for Humanity
Steve Spears, Executive Director
P. O. Box 3557
Lihue, HI 96766808/335-0296 email@example.com
Hawaii Intergenerational Community Development Association
1154 Fort Street Mall, Suite 412
Honolulu, HI 96813808/524-055237
2728 Huapala Street
Honolulu, HI 96822808/988-933938
Molokai Community Services Council
Karen M. Holt, Executive Director
P. O. Box 1046
Kaunakakai, HI 96748808/553-3244, firstname.lastname@example.org
TASK FORCE AND BUILDING DIVISION CONTACTS
You might find some allies within the Building Division of the
Department of Public Works in Hilo and Kona. I found the following
articles quite interesting. Although they focus on attempts to make
the permit process more efficient, some of the individuals mentioned
in the articles might be interested in backing a proposal to eliminate
the licensing requirements imposed on owner-builders.
Excerpts from "Officials discuss simplifying building permit process,"
by Tiffan Edwards. West Hawaii Today (Oct. 2002)
"County officials say steps are being taken to streamline the
cumbersome building permit process. Public Works Director Dennis Lee
and Brian Kajikawa, acting building division head, this week discussed
implementing that simplification."
"Aside from reducing the time to get a permit, Lee said simplification
efforts include having retired Building Division Head Wayne Onomura
rehired hired to review the Uniform Building Code and to make
recommendations for regulation changes."
"Onomura, who was with the Building Division for 30 years before
retiring three years ago, spoke of the division being in "a Catch - 22
situation." While the Uniform Building Code grows broader with more
regulations and the amount of permit applications continue to
increase, the number of workers processing the permits and ensuring
regulation compliance remains the same. The public, he added, grows
"impatient" with the time to get permits processed and construction
"Lee, meanwhile, acknowledged the need for changes in some
regulations, including a state law requiring a licensed contractor for
a project unless that project is for one's own use. Lee said to comply
with the law, a local church group recently had to hire a contractor
to build a structure - even though volunteers had sought to build it."
(If Mr. Lee is interested in changing the above-mentioned regulations,
he might just be interested in going a step further)
"The mayor also recently asked an estimated 15 people for a task force
to advise him and the Building Division on related issues, including
people living in unpermitted dwellings. That task force will be
comprised of Police, Fire, Public Works, Planning and Finance
Departments, along with the Prosecuting Attorney's office, Corporation
Counsel and the construction industry among others."
I recommend that you find out the names of members on the
above-mentioned task force and find out when they meet. They might be
willing to hear you out. You will find out more about the task force,
the agendas, and some names in the following article:
"Building Code reforms unveiled," by Jason Armstrong. Tribune-Herald
Building Division of the Department of Public Works
County of Hawaii
101 Pauahi Street - Suite 7
Building Division Branch Office
75-5706 Kuakini Highway - Suite 109
(808) 327-3520 -
The Permit Process Task Force
I would contact the Permit Process Task Force to see if they have any
interest in backing a proposal to ammend the Permit legislation. You
should be able to contact the Department of Business, Economic
Development & Tourism to find out some names.
"In 1997, the Legislature created a Permit Process Task Force within
DBEDT, composed of eleven members appointed by the Governor. Its
purpose is to expedite and facilitate the approval process within each
State agency requiring State agency approval for county building
permits. In 1998, the task force continued examination of the State's
consolidated application process, identified all permits and approvals
required by the State for applicants seeking county permits to start
construction, and recommended methods to expedite and facilitate those
permit approval processes to the Governor. The Task Force proposed
substantive and procedural changes to its authorizing statute and
submitted these to the 1999 Legislature for its consideration."
Also see http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol04_Ch0201-0257/HRS0201/HRS_0201-0062_0005.htm
for description of task force members.
GOVERNMENT RELATIONS COMMITTEE
The Hawaii Building Industry Association - Committees
GOVERNMENT RELATIONS: This committee tracks federal, state, and
county issues at the legislature. They attend hearings, effect
congressional contracts, and provide written testimony at the
different levels of government. For more information, call our
Government Relations Department at 847-4666 x202.
"One of the resources that BIA Hawaii provides is access to its
Government Relations services. As a member-driven organization, BIA
Hawaii empowers its membership by providing it with the knowledge and
opportunity for direct involvement in the law-making and electoral
process. Under the oversight of the Government Relations Committee,
BIA's Government Relations staff keeps members apprised of important
news and key legislation affecting the construction industry."
Who might take up your cause?
The Hawaii Green Party
Libertarian Party of Hawaii
Office of Hawaiian Affairs
SPREAD THE WORD FAR AND WIDE
Write letters to the Editor!
Links to Newspapers in Hawaii:
The Garden Island
Hawaii Tribune Herald
Honolulu Star Bulletin
Ka Leo O Hawaii
Lahaina News (no online link)
The Molokai Advertiser News
West Hawaii Today
Also be on the lookout for local magazines and newsletters!
THE FINAL STEP: PROPOSE A BILL
Once you have garnered enough interest and have organized a strong
backing, you can work with others to propose a bill to amend the state
statutes regarding permits. In order to effect a change in the current
state statutes, a bill will need to be introduced for consideration.
According to the Hawaii State Legislature:
"The Hawaii State Constitution requires that every law enacted be
introduced in the form of a bill. The bill title must encompass the
entire subject matter of the bill. Bills are the most important of all
vehicles available to the Legislature because if passed, bills have
the force and effect of law."
"Some of the major functions of a bill include:
Adding, amending, or deleting a law in the Hawaii Revised Statutes
"The vast majority of bills introduced in the Legislature propose to
amend the HRS by adding a new law, deleting a law, or both. Most laws
are regarded as being of a "general and permanent nature" and thus are
codified into the HRS."
From "Types of Bills and Resolutions." The Hawaii State Legislature.
For further information (when you get to this stage!):
"A Citizen Guide to Participation in the Legislative Process
(Fifteenth Edition) - January 2003." Hawaii State Legislature.
And there you have it! I am sure you will find more directions to
follow once you start on the path toward legislative change! Ideas and
avenues often open up as you talk and hash over thoughts with others.
What I have outlined is a very basic process which will likely
mushroom as it gains momentum.
I wish you the best of luck!
In fact, I think I will start reading the Hawaiian online papers
occasionally to see if I get wind of any action!
Google Search Strategy
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Hawaii AND owner-builder electrical permit
Hawaii Self help housing group
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Hawaii AND green organizations
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Hawaii AND newspapers