While many countries across the world continue to grapple with the idea of rent control in some form or the other, and the debate continues as to whether it is effective or not, we see some places moving away from it while others are seeking to embrace it.
In California in the United States for example, the decision on the way forward regarding protections from rising rental prices is expected to be decided next month, as it is included in the November mid-term ballot under the heading Proposition 10. The problem in that State it seems, is that there are limited housing options and rents continue to rise. The primary argument the supporters of that proposition have made, is that rent control is required to keep disenfranchised persons, earning low incomes, in their homes, as they are paying more than half their income on rent.
With the economy in Barbados struggling and tougher times ahead for the country as we embark on an International Monetary Fund programme and work to get the country back on track, job losses are expected. While Government has said that it will focus on retooling and empowering, retraining and enfranchising those workers it must part ways with, so that they can be re-employed or become self-employed, we also have to ask ourselves how will these persons survive and meet their various financial obligations, including rent, with less income in the immediate future and perhaps for the foreseeable future. Many Barbadians, like Californians, are paying more than half their income on rent, and the sad reality is that landlords operating in this nation can raise rents at will, and if they too face a decline in income, chances are they will put the burden on their renters to make up the shortfall.
If high rents are already adding to the financial burden of those who are struggling with pay cuts and increases in taxes at various levels, can you imagine the impact that higher rents would have on our people? One therefore has to wonder if introducing laws to govern the rental of residential properties in this country is not needed now more than ever. The fact is landlords can raise the rents they charge at will and there is no one to police them, and in the event the tenant cannot pay, their only recourse is to move. While a landlord has the right to rent to whomever they choose, they should not employ unfair tactics to achieve their desired ends.
It is not to suggest that all landlords are bad, that is certainly not so, but indeed there are far too many of them who act as a law onto themselves and this cannot be allowed to continue. Certainly, if they are keeping the properties they rent in good condition and conducting repairs as necessary, one cannot fault them for increasing the rent as time goes by, but there are some who have been known to increase the rents they charge at least two-fold,
having done nothing to improve the properties and thereby putting them out of the reach of the persons who live in them.
A former administration had spoken of subjecting landlords to the same rules that exist under the Tenantries Act, where persons renting land and wishing to increase the rent on that land would have to go before a magistrate in the court to plead his case and prove that the increase is warranted. It may seem a bit extreme, but is the rental of property not a business activity and should landlords not be accountable to a higher authority?
Now such a move could prove unpopular for any Government among certain sections of the society, but perhaps it is something to consider if we want to ensure the well-being of all our people.