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  • Writer's picturePorter DeVries

Environmental Liability and Property Owners

As a property owner in Hawaii, you may not always be aware of the environmental threat your new land purchase poses to the rest of the world. If you are considering buying a new piece of land, however, you should make your best effort to fully inspect the property and to be knowledgeable about the land’s previous uses. If you should buy land that is environmentally unsafe, you now face the potential of serious civil and criminal fines or penalties. Furthermore, it is also in your best interest after fully assessing the parcel of land to get acquainted with local laws and regulations. This can be a lot to take on, so it is best to have an attorney by your side during the entire process to make sure that all rules are properly followed.

What to Look For


When someone is eager to sell their land, they may not be completely transparent with all of the details. Even so, a buyer can still use some clues to find out if a piece of property can be environmentally hazardous. For example, if the property used to be a gas station, paint manufacturing facility, or a landfill, there is a much higher likelihood that the land could be in violation of environmental rules and regulations. Whenever chemicals or other unsafe waste products are produced, you should be wary of the environmental effects. While the land’s previous use can be a big indicator of its environmental state, you should also take the time to personally visit the property. Look out for red flags such as lack of wildlife, dying vegetation, hidden pipelines, and irregular dips in terrain. While you are inspecting the land, keep all of your local laws and regulations in mind. Make note of anything that seems to be out of the ordinary or anything that seems non-compliant. You should also make sure you are acquainted with federal laws that apply to all property owners such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Tools at Your Disposal

While you may offer your due diligence to ensure there is no environmental threat, you may experience some unforeseeable consequences down the line of previously hazardous activity. As a property owner, you should always invest in environmental insurance to make sure you are protected when things do go awry. In addition, you should consider the potential benefits of an environmental audit before making any purchase. By making an extra effort to uncover any hazards, you then qualify as an “innocent purchaser” and may be free from liability.

Whenever you plan on purchasing land or property, is important that you are aware of all legal risks. With the help of our legal team, you will know that making a good financial deal while ensuring compliance and minimizing risks. If you have concerns about your environmental liability with a potential purchase, call DeVries & Associates today at our Honolulu office at 808-465-2500 or our Kailua Kona office at 808-339-3200.

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