Magnum PI: Renters Rights & Contracts in Paradise

Josh_MagnumPI_0383Hawaii. Fast cars. Beautiful women.

Internal monologues.

And one always broke Navy SEAL.

Magnum, PI was one of the definitive shows of the 1980s. The stories focused on doing what was right and highlighted the honor of those who served in the United States military.

It also raised many legal issues….like was Thomas Magnum a tenant or guest on Robin Masters’ estate, “Robin’s Nest”?

In the first episode of Magnum PI, Magnum is staying in Robin Masters’ guest house, driving the [awesome] Ferrari 308 GTS and serving as the head of security of the estate. This was an unpaid position that included Magnum testing the security systems of the property. Other duties included rescuing the daughter of one of Robin’s friends in Italy and helping with security of Robin’s mansion in England (in different seasons). Would these services constitute rent for staying at the Robin’s Nest?

Under Hawaiian law, a “landlord and tenant may agree to any consideration, not otherwise prohibited by law, as rent.” HRS § 521-21. Additionally, if there is not a written rental agreement between the parties as to the tenancy of a lease, the tenancy is a month to month lease. HRS § 521-22.

The unwritten security services for staying in the guest agreement between Robin Masters and Magnum appear to form a rental agreement. However, there is one structural problem with this agreement: No written document, meaning the lease could be unenforceable under the statute of frauds. HRS § 490:2A-201. However, since there was contract performance by Magnum in his security duties, this arguably would eliminate the statute of frauds issue. See, Shannon v. Waterhouse, 58 Hawai’i 4, 5-6, 563 P.2d 391, 393 (1977).

If Magnum was a valid tenant, this would mean Magnum could exclude others from entering the guest house. However, Higgins virtually never knocked before entering the guest house, which arguably would violate the renter’s rights to have uninterrupted use of the property.

This Reminds Me of One Time…

Magnum_0491Magnum frequently entered into oral contracts with Higgins.

The contracts usually included specific use of Robin’s Nest, such as use of the tennis courts, wine cellar, cars and other parts of the property.

These oral contracts were arguably lease modifications that present statute of frauds issues.

However, since both Higgins and Magnum were men of honor that performed their promises, the performance would remove any enforceability issues for the lack of a written document.

The Island Hoppers

Magnum_0363Magnum called on his friend TC for helicopter flights in numerous episodes.

These flights, agreements for payment and repairs for small arms fire, should have all been in writing.

One episode had TC’s “tab” up to $800 for all the flights.

However, since TC performed the flights, he would be entitled to payment from Magnum for services rendered.

Why Oral Contracts?

It is a surprise that a billionaire author would not have an attorney write up a lease agreement with a renter acting as his chief of security. However, perhaps because Robin had such honor and prestige, the idea of not performing simply was not the behavior of those he befriended. Regardless, the only compensation for employment being a place to stay and a car to drive might be a great deal for Robin, but might violate some employment laws.

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