By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Fifteen years after they were first cited for a building code violation, the owners of a ramshackle three-story “house of cards” in Kalapana Seaview Estates are being taken to court.
Hawaii County on Aug. 24 filed a lawsuit in 3rd Circuit Court against Charles Collins, who has power of attorney, and the two co-owners: Amber Collins of Florida and Wilda Collins. The suit seeks an injunction prohibiting them from doing any more construction on the property without a building permit; payment of a fine that has reached $14,850 and that continues to accrue $50 per day; a court-ordered demolition of the nonconforming structure; and other fees and costs.
Since receiving a building permit for a 272-square foot storage and tool shed in 1997, the unpermitted home off Akanikolea Street has been built without permits. The Department of Public Works’ Building Division first served a notice of violation in 1997.
Reached by phone at his home, a tired-sounding Charles Collins said, “I’m not doing very well.” Asked to comment on the lawsuit, he did not answer and hung up the phone, and he did not answer a follow-up call.
Collins is a Vietnam War veteran and a retired businessman who ran against Linda Lingle in the Senate Republican primary. He earned 365 votes, or 0.7 percent, in the five-person race.
“Non-permitted, non-inspected construction has continued on the subject real property since a Notice of Violation was first served on Defendant Collins in 1997, and there now exists on the subject real property a non-permitted structure well in excess of that covered by the 1997 permit and extending to a height of at least three stories,” the county’s lawsuit says.
In 2002, the Planning Department wrote that Collins “claims that this (three-story house) is a tool shed for the workshop he is planning on building. It has been on the property for several years without any attempt to build the workshop.”
The lawsuit is the latest move in an effort that started in June 2011 to get the Collins family to follow the building code. The Building Division sent them an official notice to bring the building into compliance, and Charles Collins told the division that he would work with an architect or structural engineer to bring the building into compliance by July 2011. Nothing was done.
In August 2011, the Building Division issued a notice of violation and gave Sept. 30, 2011, as the new date to be in compliance with the code. Again, nothing was done.
Last October, acting Building Division chief Jai Ho Cheng set a new deadline of Nov. 25 to be in compliance and ordered a daily fine of $50 to start accruing on that day.
Charles Collins filed with the county Board of Appeals, writing to the board that “I have several concerns and issues about this matter and would respectfully like to request appeal.”
But because Collins did not file a completed application — despite being told to do so in November, January and February — the Board of Appeals dismissed the appeal with prejudice at its meeting in March and made the order final in May. Collins did not attend either hearing of the board.
That meant the duty to enforce the law fell to Deputy Corporation Counsel Michael Udovic.
“We filed a lawsuit. It’s out for service,” Udovic said last week. “We’re trying to get it served.” As of Monday, Udovic still doesn’t know whether that has happened. The defendants will then have 20 days to respond after the lawsuit is served.
Building Division Chief David Yamamoto, who took over Cheng’s position about seven months ago, said it’s not common for a noncompliant homeowner to be taken to court.
“In most cases, the person recognizes that they have a violation, and they correct the problem,” Yamamoto said. In his time as division head, Yamamoto hasn’t referred any other noncompliant buildings to the Office of the Corporation Counsel for civil or criminal litigation, and his understanding from other longtime employees is it rarely happens.
Yamamoto recognizes that “the neighbors of the community have the right to have a potentially dangerous situation taken care of,” he said, referring to the Collins house.
One of those neighbors is Jack Hash, who said Collins has continued to add railings and other fixtures.
“He continues to go out there and add things to it,” Hash said.
Hash figures that if he had to sell his house, he would have to take a $50,000 loss on it because of the presence of the Collins house nearby.
“It’s nice to know that something’s being done,” he said. Hash said that Collins owns other properties, that “this is not his home,” and he doesn’t consider Collins an enemy. Rather, Hash is more upset at Hawaii County for what he sees as unequal enforcement of the building code.
“The county has had complaints on this guy (for) at least 10 years, maybe longer,” Hash said of Collins, and referred to another neighbor who was assessed $60,000 in fines for an illegal carport before getting most of that waived. “It’s very selective what the county will seem to enforce.”