Big Island

Living on Ag Land in Hawai`i

Pictured above: Ka`u Mahi Ag Lots, Pahala, HI

Here’s one to ponder! Hawai`i Revised Statutes, the laws that govern our State, do not allow residential dwellings on agricultural land unless the dwelling is related to an agricultural activity (i.e., a farm dwelling). In other words, dwellings on agricultural lands are supposed to be used in conjunction with the operation of a farm. The statute imposes a $5,000 fine for each violation. If you fail to remove the violation within 6 months, an additional $5,000 fine can be levied.

State vs. County

At the same time, Chapter 25 (25-5-70b) of our County Code allows for the construction of one single-family dwelling on each building site in the Agricultural District. This is especially interesting because all Puna Subdivisions, many building lots in Hilo (Sunrise Estates for example) and almost all Hamakua lots are zoned Agricultural. Because the County of Hawai`i issues building permits, we generally regard their authority as controlling in this matter. Hence, we follow the County Code.

The same chapter of the County Code dictates that second and additional dwellings are not allowed on Agricultural land unless they are farm related. In other words, Ohana dwellings are not allowed on Agricultural land unless their use is farm related. Basic farm dwelling requirements are contained in the County Code. It may still be possible to build a guesthouse/maid’s quarters or a detached master bedroom without a full kitchen, but a second dwelling with a kitchen is a definite no-no without an approved farm plan.

In the Ohana

Keep in mind that Ohana dwellings have not always been excluded from Ag land in the County of Hawai`i. Because each County sets and administers Ohana permits, it was common to find Ohana dwellings on Ag lands until about 15 years ago. There are many legal Ohana homes on Ag land. At times, an Ohana permit was issued but never used. The current validity of the permit depends on the date of issue. If the validity of an Ohana permit is important to your purchase, the County Planning Department should be contacted.

Explaining these, along with other island peculiarities like Coqui frogs, catchment tanks, lava zones, lava tubes, fee simple, permitting, insurance, vog, etc, etc, takes a good deal of finesse, patience, historical knowledge, and experience! It’s all in a day’s work for REALTORS® on the world’s most beautiful island!

About the Author

Denise Nakanishi

Denise Nakanishi is a REALTOR Broker with Hawai'i Life. Denise Nakanishi is one of Hilo's most acclaimed real estate agents. She reached the rank of Major in the US Army and is now known by many as "Major Mom." The nickname fits–not only does Denise bring the discipline and mission-oriented attitude you'd expect, she's also caring and compassionate, always looking out for her clients like they're her own family. Having made the Big Island her home since 1987, Denise combines her extensive knowledge of the area with a sharp focus on customer service and the results speak for themselves. She's the recent recipient of the Best East Hawai`i, Best of Zillow, Chairman's Circle Award, President's Circle, Top Producing Agent since 2001, and Realtor of the Year awards. Denise stays ahead of the curve because she's passionate about education–she served as Education Chair for Hawaii Island REALTORS® for many years. She's one of Big Island's best real estate resources, known for her weekly article in the Hawaii Tribune Herald. Denise leads Team Nakanishi for Hawai`i Life, who is committed to their family, work, and community. In her little time away from work, Denise is a committed runner and Grandy. She also devotes many hours to various Veterans' Organizations, the East Hawaii Cultural Center, and the Hawaii Island REALTORS®. You can email me at or via phone at (808) 936-5100.

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Beth Thoma Robinson, R(B)

March 10, 2022

Thanks for the blog post, Denise. I find myself answering this question over and over as most of the land and property in Waimea and North Kohala is zoned “Ag” including in our luxury gated communities with architectural review committees!

Denise Nakanishi, R(B)

March 21, 2022

>Yes, we definitely get a lot of questions about ag properties 🙂

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