Farmer is evicted in dispute over Maili piggery

Dec. 31—On Wednesday, just days before New Year's Eve, a lawyer for the property owner notified the farmer, Matthew Reyes, he has seven days to vacate the property where he had 66 remaining hogs, including three breeding boars—each weighing more than 650 pounds.

Days before Christmas, a Waianae Coast pig farmer—after 1-1 /2 years of battling a new property owner who cut the piggery's water line and threatened eviction on the false claim his lease was invalid—was ordered by a judge to vacate the Maili farm where he had been raising 450 pigs for 22 years.

On Wednesday, just days before New Year's Eve, a lawyer for the property owner notified the farmer, Matthew Reyes, he has seven days to vacate the property where he had 66 remaining hogs, including three breeding boars—each weighing more than 650 pounds. Property owner Peter Iriarte also shut off the water to the piggery and chained the water meter.

Waianae District Court Judge Thomas Haia on Dec. 20 approved a motion made during a trial in small claims court by Terrence Lee, a lawyer representing Iriarte, who serves as head of a plasterers and cement masons union. The move apparently prompted the judge's ruling to vacate the property. "It pains me to make that decision ... but based on the law and the facts, I have to make the decision that I make, " Haia said.

Iriarte had bought the Paakea Road property in mid-September 2021, and filed a complaint alleging Reyes' lease with the previous landowner constituted an illegal subdivision of the property.

At an earlier hearing, Haia ruled that the farmer's lease was valid until July 2024 and sent the parties to mediation to settle the water matter, city notices of violation and payment of back rent. Reyes said that process ended without resolution because the mediator said they ran out of time. The city had issued two notices of violation on the property, naming Reyes as the responsible party in both.

Iriarte has alleged Reyes performed unpermitted grading for a pit into which piggery waste used to flow. Reyes has countered that the pit had been there for more than 40 years. The second notice was issued for an unpermitted shed, which Reyes said he did not build.

Iriarte had been ordered to return water to the piggery after admitting that he had the pig farm's 1-1 /2-inch waterlines cut, but he replaced the line with smaller, 1 /2-inch pipes. Reyes said the lack of water, along with water pressure challenges tied to the smaller pipes, resulted in extreme difficulty in cleaning pens and providing enough drinking water for the pigs. More than 100 of 450 pigs have died from dehydration, while others had to be sold off, Reyes said.

With mediation proving unsuccessful, at the subsequent trial in small claims court, Lee essentially changed the complaint to allege Reyes should be evicted for not paying rent—and dropped the initial complaint pertaining to lease validity. In court, Lee said Iriarte sent a letter Dec. 6 to Reyes providing a deadline of Dec. 7 to pay back rent, otherwise the lease would be terminated.

The judge asked Reyes if he wanted to resolve the matter by paying the back rent or whether he wanted to continue the trial.

Reyes later said he was then about to write a $5, 600 check, and indicated he would try to resolve notices of violation issued on the property. Reyes then asked about restoration of water pressure that Iriarte had cut. In response, the judge said, "How much pressure is not in controversy right now. What's in front of me is nonpayment of lease. ... As it stands now, I can make that finding. If I make that finding, you're out because you didn't make that rent payment."

Haia explained to Reyes, who did not have a lawyer, he had granted a motion submitted by Lee to drop the lease validity issue from the case's court records.

"So all Mr. Lee had to prove today was the lease existed, which he agreed it did, the amount that was due and that it hadn't been paid, " the judge said. "Your acknowledgment today that you are willing to pay the money is proof that you didn't pay the rent, " Haia said.

Reyes told the judge that he had not paid the rent because shortly after Iriarte bought the property, Iriarte sent a letter instructing Reyes not to send any more rent until their dispute was resolved. Further, Reyes said, the property owner returned two 2021 rent checks, for October and November, and had not cashed other rent checks. Reyes submitted the letter and returned checks to the court as a trial exhibit, which the judge took a few minutes to review.

The judge ruled that the letter was insufficient because another letter had stated that Iriarte wanted Reyes to clean up the property. In court, Reyes said that items Iriarte wanted removed, such as metal used to repair pens and wood that had been used for fire to prepare food for the pigs, were useful parts of his piggery operation.

Iriarte said in court that he was holding uncashed rent checks for October and November 2022 that Reyes sent him after Iriarte sent the Dec. 6 letter. Iriarte said he didn't cash them because of the condition that Reyes clean up the property.

Iriarte bought the 5-acre property for $699, 000 knowing Reyes' lease was tied to it, as it was advertised as such. He said at trial that he intended to build a home on the property and grow fruit trees.

After the trial Reyes said he was caught off guard in court by Iriarte's contention that the dispute was about money. Reyes said had he been able to afford a lawyer, he might have better defended himself. Reyes received by email a judgment, issued Tuesday, pertaining to possession of the property, accompanied by a letter from Lee specifying he has until Wednesday to vacate the property. If he fails to comply, the letter noted Iriarte will include the cost of removal to his damages.

On Thursday the Reyes family rushed to get help to move 62 pigs ranging from 150 pounds to 400-pound sows to another farm on the Waianae Coast. "We're scrambling and sticking them in cages, " Matthew Reyes said Friday.

Iriarte and Lee declined comment on the case. A status hearing regarding damages is set for Jan. 31.