Tenant using COVID-19 excuse to not pay rent

Tenant using COVID-19 excuse to not pay rent

Margarette MACAULAY

Monday, June 01, 2020

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Dear Mrs Macaulay,

I am the owner of a property in St Catherine. I live overseas and I'm unable to travel because I am a front line employee. I have had a tenant living at that property since late 2017. My sister was the one who signed the rent agreement, but I do the financial aspect of things. My major problem is that the tenant currently pays what amount he deems fit and not what was signed in the agreement. Since the COVID-19 pandemic he has paid no rent and the funds keep adding up. I hate the court system but could you advise how I can do that presently since I am not able to travel?

The problem is that you have a tenant who has been taking advantage of the fact that you are abroad and your sister, who signed the agreement on your behalf, has not taken any action against him for not paying the rental agreed for whatever unstated period. You have not stated what were the terms of the agreement, or if there were arrears, what would be the consequence. In fact, did the agreement even deal with this possibility? If not, you were certainly creating the position for causing great loss to yourself, and having no other avenue but to apply to and rely on the court to first get a judgement for your owed rental to be paid to you, and to get recovery of possession of your property if the tenant refuses to vacate it so you can rent it to another with an ironclad agreement to protect your interests.

This tenant also owes his entire rentals from the start of the period of the pandemic, which is still continuing, without any indication when it will come to an end.

I must say this — it seems to me that because of your hate of the court system, which is no different from that in any other country, you did not take the proper steps to protect your interests as best as you could. I am certain you did the rental agreement without the benefit of the aid of a lawyer. Do you know, 99 times out of 100, when laypeople act without seeking legal advice and representation because they do not want to pay lawyers' fees, they end up having to pay so much more in order to try to recover what they are owed or what they have lost?

Well, you have to retain a lawyer now. This you can do online — as the pandemic is forcing so many of us to do now. You must instruct the lawyer to file a claim for you to obtain judgement against your tenant for all that is owed to you plus interest, if appropriate, in the circumstances. Your sister who acted for you can give evidence of the total your tenant owes and detail for what months he was short of the total monthly sums due, and which months of the pandemic he paid nothing at all. I have assumed that you made demands of the tenant to pay what was owing.

You may also decide that you do not wish to have this tenant any longer in your premises and so a notice to quit would have to be given to him on the basis of his non-payment of rent, and any other reason.

I should warn you that you must be aware of the fact that the courts are only dealing with necessarily urgent matters, and owed rental in no way falls into this category. There is therefore a backlog of cases like yours and others, but I am sure you know that when everything has failed to grant what is justly due to you, the last bastion for justice is through the courts.

In my view, you really have no choice but to make your claim to a court. I strongly suggest that you retain a lawyer, and you should ask that person whether the court in which your claim will be filed is one which can take your evidence by Skype, Zoom or Webex, which would save you the cost of travelling, especially being a front line worker.

I also hope that you do know that once you invest in property and have tenants, you cannot avoid having to apply to or being taken to court. I see no other course of action for the position you are in with your tenant, but for you to go to the law for relief so you can obtain the monies owed to you.

As a front line worker, I hope and pray that you continue to be safe and free of infection from COVID-19 and continue to be healthy in mind, body and soul.

All best wishes.

Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.


The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.

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