Audit of the Permitting and Inspection of Large Detached Dwellings,
Resolution 18-223, FD1
From Honolulu City Auditor, November 13, 2019
Dear Chair Anderson and Councilmembers:
A copy of our report, Audit of the Permitting and Inspection of Large Detached Dwellings, Resolution 18-223, FD1, is attached. This audit was conducted pursuant to City Council Resolution 18-223, FD1, which requested the city auditor to conduct an audit of the permitting and inspection processes for large detached dwellings.
The audit objectives were to: (1) evaluate the Department of Planning and Permitting's (DPP) management of the building permitting of proposed large detached dwellings; (2) evaluate DPP's management of the building code inspection of permitted construction of large detached dwellings; (3) evaluate DPP's management of the residential code inspection of the uses of large detached dwellings; and (4) make recommendations to improve the administration of permitting and inspection of large detached dwellings.
Large residential dwelling units have become a flashpoint for O'ahu, particularly in neighborhoods with modest, aging homes, where existing dwellings are being demolished and sometimes replaced with larger homes. Today's residential development standards, which have been in place and are mainly unchanged since the late 1960s, were designed to maximize flexibility for property owners. The issue of monster homes, which concerned large detached dwellings and their impacts to communities, indicated that additional development standards were necessary to preserve and protect the character and livability of residential areas. Neighborhood opposition and concern can generally be categorized into two camps: 1) physical impacts, sheer size of the structure, parking congestion, and elevating property values, and 2) illegal occupancies, short term rentals, group living, dormitory use, and additional dwellings. Neighbors have raised concerns about dwellings with excessive bedrooms, bathrooms, wet bars, and laundry facilities.
We found that the Department of Planning and Permitting does not effectively manage building permits and inspections related to large detached dwelling units.
• The department does not effectively use information from its operations to support its regulatory needs. This lack of assembled information leads to administrative difficulties and delays in researching, reviewing, and monitoring properties systematically or individually. The department's information is not organized to identify at-risk properties, so it is only able to discover issues with qualifying large detached dwellings based on complaints only.
• The department did not assess the risks of the complaints received and the violations that it issued concerning large detached dwellings. There was no effort to understand the implications of these issues, particularly in the context of the area, community involved, or for residential development in general.
• The department inconsistently applies existing controls on large detached dwellings projects creating unwarranted authorization and difficulties in administration and enforcement. Many large detached dwelling plans were subject to plan expiration but the department did not terminate those plans.
Inconsistent application of residential covenants and allowing permits to remain active after the three-year validity period compromised enforcement. Under additional development standards for large detached dwellings, some of these incomplete structures would be forced to comply with expanded regulations concerning their size, common elements, and setbacks, if the department revoked their permits or determined them to be unfinished structures.
• The department does not effectively or efficiently manage its overdue violations leading to lack of accountability for violators and limited deterrent effect. There is a need for better coordination internally within DPP to promptly close out violations and pursue administrative enforcement. Current fees and fines do not seem to deter the violations we observed. Current fines collection by DPP is ineffective and under assesses violations. Furthermore, the department does not pursue all enforcement methods available.
The Managing Director and the Department of Planning and Permitting broadly accepted the audit's findings. The department indicated its agreement that developing a more robust system via its permit review software would improve the monitoring of large detached dwellings during permit review and construction. It is also seeking to increase fee penalties on violators who submit building permit applications after starting unauthorized construction. The department also disagreed with some of the audit's findings. In response, we provided comments and clarifications in the audit report.
We would like to express our sincere appreciation for the cooperation and assistance provided us by the managers and staff of the Department of Planning and Permitting, and the many others who assisted us during this audit. We are available to meet with you and your staff to discuss the audit report and to provide more information….
Acting City Auditor
PDF: Full Report
CB: Audit: Monster Houses Still Running Amok Despite City Law
HNN: Audit: City failed to control ‘monster homes’ or take residents’ complaints seriously
KITV: New city audit finds DPP mismanaging monster home permits
SA Editorial: DPP flaws open door for permit abuse to build ‘monster homes’
Big Q: Has the “monster house” situation improved, with passage of new city laws last year?