What is an Ohana?

There is some confusion, even among Realtors, as to “what is an Ohana”.  The word ohana in Hawaiian means family.  So here in Hawaii, guest quarters or mother in law quarters came to be known as “ohana”, a spare section of the house where family stayed on visits.

But in the late 80’s Hawaiians were complaining that foreigners were coming over and driving up the prices of homes so high that their children could not afford to buy a house.  So the legislature, in its infinite wisdom, came up with a law that would allow a homeowner to build an addition with a separate kitchen and stove, or even a separate house on the same lot with its own kitchen and stove.  You see, up until then, only one single family residence with only one kitchen with only one stove was allowed per lot.  After the law was passed, provisions were put in place for a special building permit, called an Ohana Permit, in order to build these additional living quarters.

So now there are two kinds of “ohana”.  A “legal” Ohana is one that was permitted by the county Building Department.  The kitchens in a legal Ohana have a stove, in addition to the stove in the original living quarters, which is not in violation of the zoning codes.  Then there is the common usage ohana, which can be permitted as far as the construction is concerned, but cannot have an additional kitchen stove.  What defines a kitchen is the stove.  In a mother-in-law, or quest quarters built with a standard building permit (not an Ohana permit) you can have all the kitchen cabinets, a refrigerator and a bar sink (not a double sink), but no stove.

The permit is not a permit for just a stove.  It’s a building permit for the entire additional structure.  But a person can get an Ohana permit for an existing structure as well, such as to separate an upstairs and downstairs of one house, and add an additional kitchen, separate entrance, etc..  After all the permits are finaled the two units could technically be turned into condos and sold separately.  It happens, but not that often.

The county has recently changed their policy on Ohana Building Permits and will no longer issue them on agriculturally zoned land.  To find out the exact regulations regarding Ohana Permits I suggest you contact either the Building Division at 808-327-3520, or the Planning Department at 808-327-3510.

Some neighborhoods incorporate additional restrictions on Ohana Dwellings in their Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R’s).  If they do so, then the Homeowner’s Association CC& R’s supersede the county ordinance (however, the neighborhood CC&R’s cannot be less stringent than the County’s regulations).  Whereas the County may not have regulations on the size of the Ohana Unit, some neighborhood CC&R’s do; and some CC&R’s prohibit Ohana Dwellings altogether.