Big Island

`Ohana Means Family…?

Pictured lot: 3300 Kaiwiki Rd. Hilo, HI 96720

It’s hard to imagine that it’s almost 20 years since Lilo and Stitch taught the world that “`Ohana means family.” That now-famous line raises a different set of questions where real estate is involved. If you are purchasing or intend to develop a property with multiple living units, understanding `Ohana permit issues could be important. Each County implements and creates rules administration of their `Ohana permit requirements.

`Ohana Permits

The requirements on the Big Island differ dramatically from other islands. There is no requirement on the Big Island for a family member to inhabit an `Ohana dwelling. While previous implementations of Rule 12 of the Rules of Practice and Procedure and Chapter 25 of the Hawai`i County Code allowed an `Ohana permit to be obtained without restriction as to property use.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Current rules do not allow an `Ohana permit to be issued on Agricultural land unless related to farming activity.
  • Additional dwellings on Ag land must be related to farm activity.
  • Permits, once approved, are only valid for one year (with one 30 day extension).
  • While `Ohana permits are generally not transferable, some older permits were said to run with the land, are freely transferable and do not expire.
  • Recently issued `Ohana permits are not transferable.They are specific to the applicant who must be the legal owner.
  • Once built, of course, the homes can be freely sold and related permit transfers.
  • Only one application is granted at a time. An applicant cannot receive a new `Ohana permit for 2 years following the completion of the project on which an `Ohana permit was used.

` Ohana Requirements

  • Minimum lot size for an `Ohana dwelling is 10,000 sf. with adequate wastewater disposal (may require an upgrade if on cesspool), fire protection, etc.
  • For dwellings on catchment, at least 80 inches of annual rainfall is recommended.
  • `Ohana dwellings are not permissible on a property with any type of variance. They are also not allowed in conjunction with existing multi-family dwellings or care homes.
  • Setbacks are more restrictive for the second unit than for the principal residence.
  • On properties with existing dwellings, it’s interesting that the original unit was often significantly smaller than the `Ohana dwelling. In these cases, the smaller dwelling was generally built first and is, therefore, the principal residence.

And Remember…

When purchasing a property with an existing `Ohana dwelling, be sure to check with the Planning Department to ensure the appropriate permit was obtained. If purchasing vacant land advertised with an existing permit, remember, the permit may not transfer upon sale. Be sure to check.

Lilo was right, `Ohana does mean family but now you know that this particular family of dwellings is one with a very specific set of “house rules”!

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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