What's the Difference Between an Ohana & a Nohana?

When looking at listings in the Maui MLS, you’ll come across the term Ohana. You may also see the term Nohana, and get confused…so what’s the deal?

What’s an Ohana?

Ohana is the Hawaiian word for “family,” and in the real estate context it means another place for family members to live. An Ohana can be a little apartment attached to the house, for grandma or auntie to live in. It can also be a detached building on the same property as the main house. On Maui there are rules specifying the size of the Ohana depending on the zoning and size of the property. In any event, it’s complementary to the main house, and without a main house there won’t be an Ohana.

art studio on Maui

Art studio on Maui

What’s a Nohana?

This is simply a creative term for a living space that appears to be an Ohana, but has not been blessed by the Maui County building department with a building permit for a dwelling…therefore NO-ohana.

Why don’t homeowners get a permit for the Nohana? In some cases the property might not be eligible to have a legal 2nd dwelling. Up until recently a minimum lot size of 7,500 sqft was the requirement, but now the County is going to be more lenient and will allow Ohanas on smaller lots in order to create more affordable housing on Maui. There will be rules and regulations as to size, occupancy, and such, because basically they are trying to get back to the original concept of extended family members living on the property together.

A Nohana can come in many flavors, with the common factor being that it’s not a fully permitted dwelling.

  • It may have been permitted for another use, but is being used as a dwelling, meaning it has non-conforming use. For example, an owner can have a permitted art studio or barn on their property, complete with electric and plumbing and maybe even a bathroom. But this doesn’t mean you can rent it out, or even put your grandmother in there to live for free. Just because it looks like a little home doesn’t make it a proper home.
  • It may not have been permitted as anything at all, meaning it’s un-permitted. Yes, on AG zoned land you may not need to get a permit for an agricultural building – as long as there is no electric or plumbing…or people living in it!
  • It may have been permitted as a dwelling, and then added onto without additional permits, meaning some improvements have not been permitted. An enclosed garage with a permitted bathroom makes an ideal nohana if you add a small kitchenette. By adding a kitchen and moving people in, you’re crossing that line between legal dwelling and Nohana.

As mentioned, the size of the lot and the zoning will determine how large your real Ohana can be, anywhere from 400 sqft to 1,000 sqft, and maybe more. It’s always wise to get the proper permits for building, electric, plumbing, and waste water, even when adding on to an existing structure.

workshop on Maui

Workshop on Maui

What’s the Upside & Downside of a Nohana?

For homeowners the advantage is some extra income from the tenants, or the extra living space for family. By side stepping the permit process it allows them to have the additional space whether it’s legal or not. It also saves a whole lot of time that it takes to get a building permit and pass all the inspections. Big time saving and less hassle, for now. When it comes time to sell though, an appraiser will not be able to give full value to these improvements.

Worst case scenario? Maui County finds out about the situation, and requests that homeowner correct the violations by whatever means necessary, which can mean removing the structure or getting after the fact permits.

For homebuyers the advantage is also some extra living space, which can mean rental income, or a nice space for visitors to stay. Sometimes just that little bonus apartment in the back corner of the lot can make all the difference. The downside here is that the rental income will probably not qualify for the loan process. Cash buyers may not care, and welcome these improvements in hopes that things just remain the same and nothing comes of it. It can happen, and it does happen.

Maui style tiny house

Maui style tiny house

I’ve seen some very nice Nohanas on Maui and I’ve seen some shacks, and sometimes even multiple structures on a property that you would not even guess were not permitted. It’s always wise to check for yourself when buying, and be sure you understand the pros and cons of each situation.

Need Help Understanding All the Nuances of Maui Properties For Sale?

Let me be your guide and I’ll make it easy for you.

Georgie Hunter, R(S), e-Pro
Direct: 808.283.0635

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January 24, 2018

Thank you for the informational article! I am wondering if you have a link or resource for finding Ohana and Nohana rental properties on Maui?

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