Category Archives: Consumer issues

How to handle a door-to-door solicitation

So we were just getting ready for lunch when a man came up to our front door.

He was handing out business cards and soliciting work tree trimming, landscaping, or doing yard maintenance.

“Hey, Boss, we’ll give you a good price,” he said.

In Kaaawa, we would get visits like this quite often. Over the years, I hired several people who first made unsolicited visits like this. Some turned out to be good workers, reliable, and honest. And the fact that he was out looking for work on Thanksgiving seemed to be to his credit.

I took his card, thanked him, and he left.

His business card lists two phone numbers, with the statement, “Bonded & Insured,” along with a license number.

I was going to just drop it in a drawer for possible future reference, but then I noticed the license number. It just didn’t look right.

So I quickly checked online with the Professional and Vocational Licensing database, and sure enough, the license number isn’t in a format used in Hawaii. When I searched, there’s no record of a license issued in the company name or the individual’s name. So apparently the licensed part is bogus, and likely the “bonded and insured” claim as well.

A bit of additional searching online found that a person with the same name, and a similar sounding company name, was fined twice (for a total of $1,600) by Oregon’s Construction Contractors Board several years ago.

So here’s a question: Should I just throw his card away and forget it? Does someone in my position have a responsibility to help protect others who might not know how easy it is to check out this kind of offer? Should I feel obliged to become an enforcement agent and forward his card to state regulators?

Any thoughts?

How does Hawaii rank on disclosure of consumer complaints?

How does Hawaii rate when it comes to disclosing consumer complaints?

That was the question behind a 50-state investigation by (

The organization filed public record requests in each state for records of consumer complaints against companies they are researching, using each state’s public records law.

We’re accustomed to Hawaii getting low scores on tests like this, but be prepared to be surprised.

The group rated Hawaii as one of three “Gold Star states,” the three most open states in the country, along with New Hampshire and Oregon. Each of the top ranked states maintains a searchable online database of consumer complaints.

In Hawaii, you can search separate databases of complaints filed with the Office of Consumer Protection or the Regulated Industries Complaints Office.

According to

Consumers who take the time to file a complaint with state officials can provide valuable information on how a business operates in practice. While consumers may turn to online reviews and ratings sites to evaluate a business, those sources can be murky. Fake reviews are a troublesome issue and some businesses are trying to tamp down negative reviews with terms and conditions that impose gag orders and fines. Thus, complaints filed with state officials become an important resource for consumers. States that lock complaints behind closed doors are limiting access to useful information about experiences fellow consumers have had with a company.

Equally important is the ability to keep government officials accountable. States that keep consumer records from the public are severely limiting the public’s ability to monitor whether government officials are doing enough to protect them from unscrupulous enterprises by taking action against a company.

The group compiled a list of how and where to go for information, or to file a consumer complaint, in each state. Click here to see the Hawaii listing.

Understaffing causing more city problems

Two different news stories point to more problems in Honolulu due to understaffing at the city. The understaffing seems to be undercutting the ability of the city to deliver essential services.

Trash pickup was the focus of Gordon Pang’s story on Saturday in the Star-Advertiser (“City crews are catching up on garbage collection backlog“).

Pang reported that regular trash pickups were missed throughout many parts of urban Honolulu, from Hawaii Kai to Aliamanu.

Green waste wasn’t picked up on its scheduled day here in our part of Kahala this week, and our regular Saturday pickup of the standard gray bins didn’t happen. Bulky items and green waste have had problems keeping on schedule recently.

Apparently this has been happening across Honolulu.

Pang reported:

The delays in trash pickup were touched off by a shortage of refuse operators in the Solid Waste Division’s Honolulu yard, Owens said. Typically it takes 35 operators to run the Honolulu routes, but there currently are 25, he said.

As a result, an unknown number of collections were delayed by up to two days, he said.

And a similar issue has disrupted bulky-item pickup as well.

Again, Pang reported:

…bulky-item crews recently fell seven to 10 days behind schedule, Owens said.

An employee shortage is partly to blame, he said. There are no workers assigned specifically to bulky-waste pickup, but a crew is selected from the pool of manually operated truck operations that service about 20,000 households islandwide.

That pool is also contending with a shortage.

And last night KHON reported the city has been unable to keep grass mowed along public streets and in some public areas, an issue again blamed on staff shortages.

“The Dept. of Facility Maintenance is challenged with staffing right now,” said director Ross Sasamura. “We have roughly one third of our positions vacant. We don’t see any immediate resolution to that issue….

The city’s response? Artificial turf (“City says synthetic turf is solution to wild-growing grass problem“). It’s a solution that ignores the underlying problem of a lack of staff.

It’s time for a candid assessment by city officials. What will it take to actually get the city’s necessary jobs done?

Another Honolulu Airport tidbit

The November issue of Pat Tummons’ Environment Hawaii newsletter includes a brief note about the international gardens at Honolulu International Airport, which “have long been sanctuary for weary travelers….”

Gardens Gone? The item describe construction preparations underway both at the concourse and garden levels, with plywood fences now blocking the view of the gardens.

Elsewhere in the garden area, benches suffered from neglect; stats between concrete standards appear to have been painted most recently in the last century, while the benches themselves wobble on a crumbling foundation. The once-manicured gardens are unkempt and overgrown. Sidewalks are unswept and untidy.

Before the recent neglect, the airport garden was among “Seven Picture-Perfect Airport Gardens” recommended by

Environment Hawaii notes that email requests for comment from DOT Airports officials went unacknowledged.

Will the gardens be making way for new commercial development in the airport? I guess we have to wait and see what unfolds.

San Francisco vote puts spotlight on vacation rentals

Voters in San Francisco will have their say on Proposition F, a ballot issue that would attempt to clamp down on short-term vacation rentals. The public debate over the measure, which is widely known as the “Airbnb Initiative,” mirrors the debates here in Honolulu over transient vacation rentals. Despite the focus on Airbnb, the new restrictions would also hit property owners who rent through VRBO, HomeAaway, and other services.

If approved, the initiative would not established a ban on short-term rentals, but would put a cap of 75 rental days per year for residential properties, and add reporting requirements.

The Los Angeles Times has a good story today reviewing the pros and cons of the initiative (“San Francisco residents to vote on contentious Prop. F targeting Airbnb“).

The argument in favor of Proposition F is grounded in the belief that short-term rentals hurt the city’s already limited housing supply. Rents in San Francisco have already skyrocketed, with the median price of a one-bedroom apartment tipping into $4,000 a month. If homeowners can make more money renting out their units weeks at a time, why bother with long-term tenants?

Opponents say the reporting requirements would be too intrusive, and the 75-day limit would do nothing to address the housing crisis.

Airbnb has reportedly pumped more than $8 million into the campaign against Proposition F, and deployed a high-powered political strategist.

For those of us far from the battleground, the LA Times also provided a concise summary of the issues (“Everything you need to know about San Francisco’s Airbnb ballot measure“).

Whatever the outcome, political lessons learned in this campaign will undoubtedly inform the ongoing political fights over vacation rentals here and across the country.