Tenants in rental arrears urged to take responsibility amid economic uncertainty

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By Orville Williams

Tenants struggling to pay rent are being encouraged to make contact with their landlords and discuss possible financial arrangements due to the ongoing economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Prices and Consumer Affairs division is issuing that call after a significant increase in confrontations over the status of rental payments.

Due to the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic, scores of workers across several sectors lost jobs or had their salaries reduced by employers, to keep businesses afloat. Reduced income left many workers unable to meet certain responsibilities, including the payment of rent and utilities.

The government sought to assist in this regard, by issuing a stop-order on evictions during the most-impacted months, and partnered with utility provider, APUA, to suspend disconnections during the same period. However, while that reprieve was welcomed by many, some tenants have reportedly been abusing the pronouncements.

This abuse includes cases of complete refusal to make payments, refusal to make payments within stipulated timeframes and hostility toward landlords.

Spokeswoman for the Consumer Affairs Division, Jo-Ann Peters, says these issues have been raised by landlords and she is urging tenants across the country to shoulder their responsibility in the situation.

“We cannot appeal enough to tenants that you must say something to your landlord. What we have seen over the past few weeks is a downturn in the behaviour of tenants toward landlords. Tenants are of the opinion that because the government has asked for leniency on the part of landlords, they should withhold their rent payments, not make them – even if they’re in a position to – and their general behaviour toward landlords has been simply deplorable,” she said.

“We need tenants to understand that they do have rights, but they also have responsibilities. One of the tenants’ responsibilities is to enter into dialogue with his/her landlord. Do not believe, well, I am at home and everybody knows that I am not working. You must say something to your landlord, you must have a dialogue,” Peters explained.

She spoke briefly on one recent case, which has gone viral on social media, with a tenant seemingly facing eviction due to an inability to make rent payments.

“It is an ongoing case here at the division. We continue to dialogue both with the landlord and the tenant in this particular case…but I would like to reassure the public that we are very much a part of the case. We are mindful of the situation being faced by the tenant and also by the landlord,” she disclosed.

Though landlords are encouraged to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis – given the novelty and severity of the pandemic – Peters reiterates that the responsibility to meet the established payments and payment deadlines remains with the tenants.

“A landlord can contact a tenant to find out when [the] rent is going to be paid, how [the tenant] is doing and the like…however, in this case, the full responsibility rests with the tenant to say something to the landlord,” she said.

Speaking on the recent hostility of tenants toward landlords, Peters further disclosed, “we have had situations lately where [there have been] escalations. We have had a case where a tenant decided, well, I am going to give the landlord a taste of my hand and that is now a criminal matter.

“We have had situations where tenants are saying, I’m not going to move and so, I am going to pour urine in your drinking water and on you. So, the situations are somewhat getting out of hand.

“We make an appeal to tenants, please – how many properties a landlord has is not your business – what is your business is the fact that you need to make good on your rent payments. So, if I have rented a property and I am unable to, then I’m going to meet with my landlord and say to my landlord, what arrangement can we come up with?” she implored.

There have also been situations where arrangements made prior to Covid-19 are not being respected by tenants, again, due to their established financial difficulties. However, tenants cannot merely discard these arrangements because of Covid-19, Peters said.

She added that a ‘notice to quit’ issued before the pandemic, for example, still stands. It remains at the discretion of the landlords how these arrangements are adjusted.

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