Oahu North Shore homebuyers sue over erosion

Sept. 24 – Oahu’s stunning North Shore, with its alluring deep blue ocean and world-class surf waves, is increasingly resembling a game of real estate hot potatoes as oceanfront property owners offload homes increasingly threatened by erosion.

Oahu’s stunning North Shore, with its alluring deep blue ocean and world-class surf breaks, is increasingly resembling a real estate hot potato game as owners of oceanfront lots unload homes increasingly threatened by erosion.

However, some buyers have complained that they were not fully informed of the risks, and two California residents are now suing. They say Rupert Oberlohr, who sold them a property in Sunset Beach, and his real estate agent engaged in fraudulent practices by not fully explaining the risks posed by the eroding shoreline.

Oberlohr strongly denies the allegations and says through his attorney that the real reason the new owners have sued him is because their business plan to use the property for vacation rentals fell through.

California residents Peter Rudisill and Kristjan Higdon bought the property at 59-175-B Ke Nui Road for $1.9 million in 2019. An ad listed by Hawaii Life real estate agent Julia Napua Fetzer described it as “paradise at the beach”. The three-bedroom main house has a lanai, which the ad said was an ideal spot for watching waves, and a two-bedroom house at the back. One image shows a wide beach stretching from the property.

But this wide beach is deceptive. At certain times of the year, the beach narrows significantly when the direction of the waves changes. Suddenly, the coast can become dangerous, as Oberlohr experienced first-hand in January 2014 when 50-foot waves pounded the north shore.

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Oberlohr, who has owned and lived on the property since the 1970s, joked to Hawaii News Now at the time that either the ocean or his ex-wife would take over his home.

The situation along the stretch of coast between Rocky Point and Sunset Beach has deteriorated in recent years. In a desperate attempt to save their homes, unauthorized property owners have maintained huge “burrito” systems using long sand-filled tubes and heavy black tarps on the beach, illegally dropping boulders and building levees.

One of the homes along the route actually fell onto the beach earlier this year, and in recent years it has looked like others are teetering on an ever-higher sand berm.

Rudisill and Higdon say they were not informed of the risk in purchasing the property in a lawsuit filed against Oberlohr, Fetzer and Hawaii Life in Oahu’s 1st Circuit Court in 2021. The lawsuit alleges that Oberlohr’s disclosure statement lied that the property is not in a special administrative area — a coastal area that has special controls for development to protect sensitive natural resources — and failed to disclose that he was involved in a lawsuit related to the neighbors Denise and James O’Shea’s alleged construction of an illegal dam were implicated.

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The O’Sheas filed a lawsuit against Oberlohr, saying he carried out unauthorized work on his property and that his retaining wall partially collapsed in 2018.

Rudisill and Higdon also say in their complaint that they received a violation notice from the State Department of Land and Natural Resources in 2020 that revealed facts not disclosed by Oberlohr or Hawaii Life. They say they were not told that DLNR granted Oberlohr a temporary permit to install a burrito system in 2018 because the property was at risk of severe erosion.

The DLNR violation notice also said the burritos’ approval was conditional on Oberlohr removing debris from its failed retaining wall, including concrete and timber, which Rudisill and Higdon said he did not do.

The burritos have expired for over a year, and like dozens of other North Shore property owners with expired permits, Rudisill and Higdon have refused to remove them.

Their complaint alleges that “Oberlohr concealed the property’s erosion problems in order to increase its marketability” and that Oberlohr used photographs in the property’s marketing materials showing sand covering the burritos and debris.

Rudisill and Higdon seek to reverse the sale, treble damages from Hawaii Life for alleged violations of Hawaii real estate laws and unspecified punitive damages. A recent attempt to settle the lawsuit was unsuccessful, according to court documents.

Rudisill and his attorneys declined to discuss the litigation.

An attorney for Oberlohr said there was no basis for the lawsuit and that the owners did sue because the city and county of Honolulu cracked down on the vacation rental shortly after the sale.

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“This baseless lawsuit, filed by the plaintiffs, two California real estate investors, does not address a failure to disclose the terms of the property,” Sunny Lee, an attorney with Honolulu’s Bronster, Fujichaku and Robbins, said via email. Mail. “Instead, this case is about buyer’s remorse.”

Lee said Rudisill and Higdon’s business plan to conduct short-term rentals on the property fell through after the Honolulu City Council passed Ordinance 19-18 banning short-term rentals of less than 30 days. The law was passed four days after Oberlohr bought the property.

Lee also said that Oberlohr has clearly disclosed the property’s erosion problems and that the new owners even signed an “oceanfront addendum” warning that certain properties could be damaged in high-swell areas and that shoreline owners could lose portions of their property property when the ocean migrates inland.

Lee said the new owners received a copy of the temporary permit DLNR Oberlohr issued for its burrito system in 2018 and that Hawaii Life’s Fetzer had told Rudisill and Higdon’s agent that the property was in the SAR . Lee also said that the new owners were aware of the O’Shea litigation before completing the sale and that the litigation does not affect the property.

“Mr. Oberlohr denies any wrongdoing and looks forward to proving his case in court,” Lee said.

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