EDITORIAL: Change of law needed to protect rights of everyone
The relationship between landlords and tenants in Barbados has always been strained due to the fact that there are some unscrupulous persons who take advantage of the rules to the detriment of others. This could lead to unnecessary homelessness, inability to pay bills, damage to property along with verbal and physical altercations. Many of these disputes end up before our courts as a burden to the legal system, which is already overwhelmed. During the discussions on the Covid-19 pandemic Prime Minister Mia Mottley had requested that landlords be lenient to tenants as they may be unable to pay full rent and would therefore not be likely to find alternative housing if evicted. However some tenants would use this opportunity to continue poor behavior by not paying rent or utility bills, leaving landlords in a difficult situation where they had to pay these utilities to prevent disconnection as well as operate at a loss without the collection of their regular income from rent. For some landlords, this is their primary source of income, which means that they would be unable to adequately support their households during the fall out from this difficult time. It is necessary for regulations in this area to be specifically balanced to ensure that both parties are protected. From the various points of view one could see the risks held by each party in such a relationship.
On one hand tenants are often harassed, paying rent to live in discomfort when the landlord refuses to fix basic aspects of the property to ensure the tenants’ comfort, safety, and health. Tenants are also evicted for very little reason at times with minimal notice causing them to have to find alternative housing quickly. In some cases landlords even cause tenants to go without utilities by requesting that companies no longer provide service to the property.
Meanwhile, landlords, in addition to being forced to pay for utilities and property damage as well as cleaning, are often forced to go through the court process to have difficult tenants removed or forced to pay outstanding rents. They then have to pay the additional cost of legal fees and court fees while enduring the sometimes lengthy process.
The law can require up to 42 days of notice before the matter can be brought to the courts to be dealt with, the court process can take months during which time the tenant may remain in the property. If it cannot be proved that the tenant has means to pay there appears to be little the courts can do to get the Landlord the sums owed to him. This means that becoming a landlord comes with unexpected risks and can lead to financial loss in the worst cases.
There have recently been several complaints in the media about these types of disputes being compounded by the loss of revenue associated with Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown of the island accompanied by mass lay-offs and salary cuts.
Changes must be made to the process of settling landlord and tenant disputes to create a more efficient, quicker, and less expensive process for justice to be served in these matters so that the rights of everyone involved can be respected.