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Bikes, Sidewalks, and Tourists

Riding a bike on a sidewalk can negatively impact a person’s personal injury claim and could your chances of recovery.

I enjoy walking around our office neighborhood a lot, and watching the protected bike lane on King Street & Punahou brings a couple thoughts to mind. Personally, I am glad to see the number of bike share users increasing. I also wish the City and County of Honolulu would add more bike lanes. I’ve also hear  from many friends, clients, and neighbors about bike users on the sidewalks.  On the flip side, traffic congestion  explains the desire to ride on the sidewalk. The streets in Honolulu (and in Hawaii) are scary for bike riders!

However, as a personal injury attorney, I am concerned for the general public, and particularly motor vehicle accident (MVA) clients. Why? Because where you ride your bike matters. If you ride your bike on the sidewalk, and are hit by a car, that may impact your ability to seek recovery. Compensation from insurance is often determined by variables.  One important variable is what you chose to do to contribute to the accident. Like the choice of where to ride your bike.

Why Does It Matter Where A Bike Is Ridden?

The State of Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu put a lot of energy into encouraging alternative transportation. More bikes, buses, and walking are all goals for a livable community.  The City and County even has a dedicated page to a Bicycle program here.

These efforts are made with safety in mind.  Protected bike lanes, enlarged sidewalks, and clear street signs makes streets and sidewalks safer. If you follow the traffic laws, then getting around is predictable for all.  However, when a person walks down the middle of the street, or a rides their bike on the sidewalk, it creates an unsafe situation.  Why?  It makes traversing the area unpredictable. Additionally, it can create animosity between the various roadway users.

Most drivers, or pedestrians, do not expect to see bikes on the sidewalks.  If a bike user rides on the sidewalk and is involved in an accident, they could be deemed more at fault than the other person involved. This could mean a bar to recovery for the bike rider.  Putting it another way – it may be found that it was the bike rider’s choice to ride on the sidewalk, and getting hurt was their fault, and thus, no recovery.

What Does Honolulu Law Say About the Situation?

Following the law and knowing where you can ride your bike is critical to everyone’s safety.

Specifically, City and County provides the following on their FAQ page:

Q: Are bicyclists allowed to ride on the sidewalk?

A: The City and County of Honolulu prohibits bicyclists from riding on sidewalks within business districts or where prohibited. In all other areas, bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks provided the speed is 10 mph or less. The bicyclist must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, giving an audible signal before overtaking them. ROH 15-18.7 

The State of Hawaii defines business districts as “the territory contiguous to and including a highway when within any six hundred feet along such highway there are buildings in use for business or industrial purposes, including but not limited to hotels, banks, or office buildings, and public buildings which occupy at least three hundred feet of frontage on one side or three hundred feet collectively on both sides of the highway.” HRS 291C-1

The Government Should Continue Their Effort To Better Educate Tourists

You can park your bike on sidewalks, but you cannot ride it in certain areas.

Many people ride bikes on the sidewalks.  My understanding, from transportation specialists, is that in many other countries riding on the sidewalk is the norm.  My business partner, Ryan, recently attended the Honolulu Society of Business Professionals (HSBP) Multimodal Transportation Luncheon.  The attendees and presenters echoed the same in their experiences. Todd Boulanger, the Executive Director of Biki (Honolulu’s bike share service) understands this issue as well. Biki  is working on ways to educate their customers, so they do not hurt themselves by riding on sidewalks when they should not. Perusing Biki’s website, I see they provide information in other Japanese about Biki services.

However, the government can and should continue to better educate the public about where to legally ride their bike. Ideally, this will help prevent accidents, whether riding on sidewalks is due to this cultural difference or not. Further, for educated bike riders that do get into accidents, at least they were following the law, and the path to recovery is more predictable.

Honolulu’s roads will likely become more busy and crowded as additional alternate means of transportation become available. There will be cars, bikers, rider sharers, bus riders, rail users, and pedestrians.

What Else Do You Think Can Be Done: Improving Cyclists’ Safety And Transportation Means

What can Honolulu do to alleviate these problems?  Please email me your thoughts. I am happy to discuss this issue with you. Or if you have ideas, maybe we can approach a legislator to introduce a bill for the legislative process. I think there are opportunities to make Honolulu a safe bike riding city for all.

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

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Can You Keep Chickens in Your Backyard?

Chinese Rooster

I’m sure you’ve seen the odd chicken or two crossing Honolulu’s roads!

Happy Lunar New Year All!

If you’ve been following me, you may recall I did a blog post on my old website (also found here) celebrating last Lunar New Year’s animal, the monkey. It was a post about “Can You Own a Monkey in Hawaii?” Keeping with that theme this post discusses the laws of the City and County of Honolulu related to this Lunar New Year’s animal, the Rooster. Or more precisely, chickens.

Can You Keep Chickens?

This post is limits discussion to the jurisdiction of the City and County of Honolulu (the island of Oahu).  Additionally, the post focuses on residential areas only. If you are raising chickens for commercial purposes you have compliance issues regarding zoning and permitting, which is a different discussion then today’s post.

Nuisance Law

When keeping chickens, the law is not related to the animal itself, but more has to do with the City government’s ability to regulate nuisances. Old English common law had it that when some type of action by a defendant was either causing a substantial and unreasonable interference with people’s use and enjoyment of the land (private nuisance) or the action had a materially affect the reasonable comfort and convenience of life of the people (public nuisance). Flash forward to today, our city government has the ability to regulate nuisances, in our case for this post, Animal Nuisances. You can find it in Chapter 7, Article 2 of the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu.

So the laws approach to the situation is to make it unlawful to own poultry, which includes chickens, pigeons, turkeys, geese, ducks and peafowl so long as they are an “animal nuisance”.  See Sec. 7-2.3.

Short answer: yes, you can keep chickens if you are in Honolulu.

Slightly longer answer: yes, you can keep chickens in Honolulu, so long as they are not a nuisance. If they are a nuisance, then you cannot keep them.

So What’s an “Animal Nuisance”?

Article 2 also defines “animal nuisance.” There are three (3) definitions, but I’m going to focus on the first two definitions which is:

  • Makes noise continuously and/or incessantly for a period of 10 minutes or intermittently for one-half hour or more to the disturbance of any person at any time of day or night and regardless of whether the animal, farm animal or poultry is physically situated in or upon private property;
  • Barks, whines, howls, crows, cries or makes any other unreasonable noise as described in Section 7-2.4 (c) of this article;

See Sec. 7-2.2.

So it is clear that a chicken making noise continuously for 10 minutes or intermittently over one-half hour (30 minutes) is a nuisance, but what is that second definition about?

Again, we are now defining another concept, which is what constitutes “unreasonable noise”. Sec. 7-2.4(c) says that:

Noise is unreasonable within the meaning of this article if considering the nature and the circumstances surrounding the animal nuisance, including the nature of the location and the time of the day or night, it interferes with reasonable individual or group activities such as, but not limited to, communication, work, rest, recreation or sleep; or the failure to heed the admonition of a police officer or a special officer of the animal control contractor that the noise is unreasonable and should be stopped or reduced.

What does this Mean for an Owner of a Rooster that cock-a-doodle-doos at 11:00 p.m. in an Apartment Building?

If we consider the nature and the circumstances: (a) it is a building where everyone is close by; (b) the rooster’s noise is at night; and (c) that most people are sleeping at that time; and (d) that the neighbors would likely call the police or animal control personnel. Then the likely outcome is those officials would instruct the owner to have the animal stop. If the owner did not stop the problem, then it would be deemed as “unreasonable noise.” See Sec. 7-2.4. This turns into an “animal nuisance” and then the owner would be prohibited from keeping the rooster.

What Could Happen if you Violate the Law?

Generally, a monetary fine. If you keep stacking offenses within a certain time frame you actually be imprisoned. Additionally, you can be ordered to go to a training program or retain a contractor to help you train the animal to stop the nuisance. Further, such training programs or contractors are paid for by you. See Sec. 7-2.10

How Many Chickens can I Have?

Sec. 7-2.5(d) states that for chickens and peafowl: “The number of chickens or peafowl shall not exceed two per household.”

So yes, while you can keep a couple of chickens in Honolulu residential areas, they better be quiet chickens!

How do I Handle Chicken Noises Bothering Me?

If you have an animal noise complaint for Oahu, then contact the Honolulu Police Department or the Hawaiian Humane Society. The Hawaiian Humane Society recently has started responding to chicken noise complaints: http://www.kitv.com/story/34311091/hawaiian-humane-society-now-responding-to-chicken-noise-complaints

If you want to find more about Honolulu’s Animal Nuisance law, click here.

Thanks again for stopping by and I hope this is a fortuitous and good year for you!

-RKH

DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in this post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in their relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

It’s all About the Trade, Part II: What Constitutes a Trade Secret?

Congratulations to all winning teams at this past weekend’s Startup Weekend Honolulu.  I look forward to meeting you all. Good job by The Box Jelly for hosting a great event!
So last week was trade name versus trademark.  Today is another area that a lot of startups get confused.  They find a programmer, designer, consultant, and other similar professions to help them bring their idea to reality, but want them only as an independent contractor, and if they have enough capital, possibly an employee.  However, no ownership, thus how do they protect their most sacred moneymaking idea that they slaved over a weekend trying to pitch?

Make them sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), is usually the first conclusion, then when a Client comes to me to draft them a NDA. I then ask them what they want to protect with the NDA, and they then to proceed to tell me everything including the kitchen sink . . . isn’t everything internal a trade secret?

No, just because you don’t want your competition to know does not make it a trade secret.

So What IS a Trade Secret?

Where we start off with trade secrets is the legislative definition, which is found in Hawaii at HRS §482B-2. This is the definition section under the Uniform Trade Secrets act and it states the following:

“Trade secret” means information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program device, method, technique, or process that:

(1)  Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and

(2)  Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.

So right off the bat, the definition indicates why a lot of business owners feel they have a trade secret.  Their information is precious (to them), they created a “new” “method” or “technique” (which was tried already and the market doesn’t think it is valuable), etc . . . . As you can tell by my commentary in the parentheses a trade secret has to be more.

Let’s use the famous example of a trade secret The Coca-Cola Company’s formula for coca-cola. First, it satisfies the first element. It’s a formula.

Second, the formula must have an independent economic value from not being known. In this case, it is clear that it does. No one has successfully replicated Coke’s formula AND it’s major rival Pepsico does not have the same formula.  Through its distribution deals and keeping the formula unattainable by normal means (such as experimenting) they have built a beverage empire.

Lastly, Coke has kept this secret for so many years, which supports the last element, which is the efforts to maintain secrecy.  At this point it may be beyond reasonable, but the efforts by Coke to maintain the correct amounts to the formula are legendary.  From bank vaults, to shopping around to different suppliers, etc . . . you name it, they have probably created an elaborate strategy to foil would be corporate spies.

What does this Mean for a Startup?

If you want to make a sound NDA, then you need to know what your company is all about.  Before, you think that is easy, remember you have gone around itching the idea to get investors, employees, etc . . . what have you told them?  Remember it’s a balancing act of trying to sell the idea without giving up the process, the secret has to be generally not know.

This brings me to another situation where people rely on public data, government information, etc . . . I will give them they have come up with a clever way to put disparate knowledge together, but if someone can readily replicate that “cleverness” on their own their really isn’t anything to protect.

Finally, the shotgun approach to NDA use should not be your method of maintaining secrecy.  Medium and large companies go overboard and have their janitors sign them when the have no intention of enforcing it against them and they aren’t privy to the company’s core secrets.  So for you, don’t make everyone you come in contact sign it, especially investors. They aren’t going to do it.

The rule of thumb is what your trying to protect your core strength and are you deriving that strength because no one else has figured it out.  This includes things like next year’s marketing plan, your competition not knowing how you will expand your product lines is a) valuable b) it is not known and c) if you are keeping it under lock and key, encrypted files, etc . . .  then you do have a trade secret. Obviously, it will no longer be a secret as to when you role out these new product lines, but before that time you need they are worth protecting. Then on the NDA side you only make people sign one if they can make use of your idea on their own (i.e. an engineer who knows the process to make a new material).

Anyway, the lucky winners from Startup Weekend Honolulu will get this information in a lecture and more regarding contracts, HR, Internet laws, and organizing their company as part of their winning package as provided by my firm.  So I urge you participate in Startup Weekend, as you may be the one asking, can I protect my business idea?

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.  Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.


Draw the Law: Location Issues, Part III, Zoning

Zoning

Hi everyone, on the last post I briefly touched upon using your home as the location of your business.  Today’s post will focus on zoning and all the complexities that brings to setting up your business.

Similar, to how neighborhood associations or condo groups want a certain look, so they enforce covenants against members the government also wants to shape and control how the land is used.  This is accomplished through zoning laws.

All land in Hawaii (except for federal land) is one of four categories: (1) conservation; (2) agricultural; (3) rural; and (4) urban).  The four designation were created by the State Land Use Commission.   The Zoning Code lists what are the permitted uses within each zone.  It also lists the required setbacks, height limits, parking areas for commercial developments, and other such types of requirements.

Every zone has a list of what is a “permitted” use without need of further approvals. It’s the reason you see gas stations and strip malls where you do, and away from your houses.

In general, when looking at a location you want to make sure your business will be able to meet the requirements.  If you are set-up shop in one area and violate the zoning requirements it could be very costly and be so severe as to drive you out of business.  In addition to the land use, construction of buildings need plan approvals from the Planning Department as well as the building itself needs a building permit, which ensures that the building is for the permitted use and has proper set backs.

In some occasions you can get a variance to allow for some type of use not allowed in the zone, such as the shape of the lot allows you a different setback.  It is also possible to get a Land Use Approval for others kinds of use.  However, in general to get a variance or Land Use Approval it can be a long process.

For more information on the matter (for Oahu) visit the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting page.  In addition, when dealing with zoning laws it is best to seek an attorney and other land use professionals to help best explain the complex system.

Licensing and Permitting

Before I end out this Draw the Law, I’d like to make brief mention with licensing and permitting, which dovetails nicely with zoning.  I already made mention of building permits above, but suppose you say you start your business and you have structures you want to alter or demolish.  You will need a building permit for such actions.  There is even a sign permit if you want to install, construct, alter or move any sign on the property!

Certain businesses also require a license to be operational for business.  The best example of this is the liquor license.  A bar cannot operate even though it meets all the other zoning requirement without a liquor license.  For example, let’s say it is the right-sized building for bar operation on a lot in Waikiki or Downtown that allows bars, but the owner fails to obtain the proper liquor license to sell drinks.  He would not be able to open his bar and sell drinks until he gets approval from the Liquor Commission via a license.

Therefore, the need of having all your ducks lined up when opening certain businesses is paramount.  It takes a lot of time, paperwork, review, and discussion with the government.

As always if you like this post or any of my other series please Subscribe to this blawg to receive updates to your e-mail.  In addition, follow me on Twitter @Rkhewesq and Like Me on Facebook under Ryan K. Hew.  If you need to contact me directly, please e-mail me at Ryankhew@hawaiiesquire.com.

See you on the next Draw the Law!

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Draw the Law: Location Issues Part I, Leasing and Subleasing

Last week’s Draw the Law post I discussed buying a business or into an established franchise, but let’s go back to the original proposition you started your own business now you are looking for a place to settle.
Where am I going to sell by service and/or products?  Do I need an office Downtown?  Or a retail space or warehouse in Kaka’ako?  That kind of determination will be largely based on what type of industry you are in.  Moreover, a business planner and market researcher can help you narrow down a location suitable for you needs.  Today is mainly about commercial leases and some of the terms and clauses you will see in such agreements.

Leasing: Know What you are Signing

For the vast majority of small businesses here you will probably get a commercial space of some sort. While, each location you look at for your office or retail space will have some different considerations there are some basic clauses that landlords like to throw at you to legally bind you into some one-sided arrangements.  Remember that whether the lease is a generic “one-size fits all” or a custom one, that an attorney probably helped the landlord create it.  You also have the option of having an attorney review the lease and go over it to help your negotiating position.  In addition, one only need join me on my running route through King St. to realize that there are a lot of open spaces right now (2011).  So some of the following terms and clauses that I will discuss are negotiable, as the landlord would rather have someone fill the space than leave it empty.

Clauses and Terms: Things to be Aware of in Your Lease

  • Base Rent – what does it cost you to use the property for your business?  It is calculated by taking the square footage of the space and multiplying it by a set dollar amount.  Remember that the usable amount of square footage will be less than the base square footage.
  • Additional Rent – wait, what is this “additional rent”?  This is a place for negotiating or determining if your landlord is trying nickel and dime you. It is usually a catchall term to include a lot of extra things that base rent does not capture.  Ask and have the landlord define this term and spell out what it includes.  Does it include taxes, insurance, and/or utilities or are those in the base rent?
  • Operating Expenses – this is another clause whether the landlord or property manager will try and past off the expenses to you.  Watch out for the phrase “without limitation” and if you are in a mall don’t let them try and pass on a higher common area maintenance (CAM) rate to you because they gave a lower rate to an “anchor” store.  As a small business you do not want to be paying the same or more to maintain the common areas that are more trafficked by the big box stores.

  • Parking – does parking come with the space?  Do you have to maintain it?  Do you get parking for the duration of the lease or can the landlord/property manager change at will?  Parking is a premium in this state and you need to know if you are going to have it for you, your employees, and customers or you will have to come up with other solutions.
  • Option to Expand – can you knock down a wall and add the space to yours?
  • Termination – do you have a way to extract yourself?  A landlord is reluctant to let you go if they have extracted a lot of assurances and money from you.  If you terminate early that usually messes up their projects and it takes time to find another tenant.  They may force you to accelerate payment if you terminate early.
  • Use – you will state how you will use the space, don’t be too specific and use general terms.  You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself.
  • ADA Compliance – is the building compliant with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and if it isn’t is the landlord trying to pass on some of those costs to you?
  • Signage – what are the requirements and restrictions of the use of signs for your business?

There are still other terms and clauses to be on the watch out for, like tenant improvements, occupancy and commencement, relocation,, option to renew, and the security deposit.  Be mindful of state and city and county level requirements, such as zoning restrictions and requirements of spacing.  You may have a landlord try and lease you a space for a food business knowing full well you will not be able install a require grease trap or venting system, and then you would be stuck.

In general, if you do not understand something ask the landlord for an explanation of clarification. If they are not being helpful seek out expert advice.  This is your lease and your business will be tied to the location for a significant amount of time.  You do not want to be stuck in a position with unfavorable terms due to the lease and unable to move or do anything about it.   In addition, ask some of the current tenants what their feelings are dealing with the landlord or property manager.  Find out if you would be dealing with a landlord who does their job or is an absentee who just collects the rent.

Subleasing

If you are leasing from a tenant, then you are subleasing.  You would be the called sublessee.  Your agreement is with the tenant and does not put you into connection with the landlord.  This has certain ramifications.  The legal agreement is between the tenant and the landlord, therefore if the tenant fails to pay the landlord cannot come after you.

Even though, you are subleasing from the tenant you should still ask to see the main lease agreement.  Why?  Whatever, is affecting the tenant will then trickle down and affect you.  In addition, trying to sublease to you may be a violation of clause in the lease agreement or there may be stipulations on how to sublease.  By subleasing the space out the tenant acts like a competitor to the landlord.  Remember, you can always arrange for a sublease yourself and become a mini-landlord.  However, you would have to make sure that you are collecting payments for your sublessee and paying your landlord on time.  If not you would be the one in default and the landlord would come after you.

Last Word

In general, lease agreements will always be lengthy documents with a lot of clauses that will probably not work in your favor.  However, with so many rental spaces available right now (2011) you should try to negotiate to get the best deal as possible.  This requires a lot of reading, researching, and even talking.  Find out what is going on around the area and not just the building.  Also be aware that the broker may actually be representing the landlord, so make sure you get your own expert on your side.

Bottom line: be aware of what you are signing!

Next time I will discuss about owning a property for your business and using your home as your primary business location.  Don’t forget if you enjoy this series or any of the other series on my blawg feel free to subscribe in the right-hand corner of this page to receive e-mail updates on posts.  If you are on Facebook be sure to “Like” “Ryan K. Hew” to get updates there as well.

See you on the next draw!

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Social Media and the Law Series

New Series of Posts: Social Media and the Law

Later today I will be posting the first in a series of posts detailing Social Media and its interaction with the law.  Generally, it is geared toward small businesses, law students, and social media users.  In particular, for those groups of people living, working, and playing in Hawaii. However, everyone is welcome to read for their own education.

Let me give you a quick overview of the five major topic areas that I will be covering in posts over the next couple of months. They are as follows:

  1. Social Media and the Workplace
  2. Creating and Implementing a Social Media Policy
  3. Using Social Media as Evidence
  4. Social Media and Legal Miscellany

Today’s post will be under Social Media and the Workplace, specifically the hiring and background checks of potential employees by employers.  Please note that I will be switching the schedule of my postings.  The Social Media and the Law posts will come out Mondays or Tuesdays of the week and Draw the Law will be on Fridays or Saturdays of the week.

In the mean time, look below and check out some interesting facts on social media.

Just Some Facts about Social Media

Social media is quickly becoming a part of our everyday lives.  Many of us check our social media accounts at least once during the day.  Here are a few interesting facts:  (1) Facebook has more than 500 million active users and 50% of their active users log on Facebook in any given day (Source: Facebook) and (2) Twitter users send out about 55 million Tweets per day.  All of that adds up to an avalanche of information. (Source: DigitalBuzzBlog)

For some more interesting facts, information, and graphics from other sources on social media check out the following links: