Rent Board must not take sides against short-term rentals

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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Until its recent appointment of a mentally energetic chairman, in Mrs Rose Bennett-Cooper, the Rent Board had seen its relevance disappear with the 1970s and 80s, when it largely protected tenants from heartless landlords.

Bennett-Cooper, however, has to be careful that the board is not commandeered by the Realtors Association of Jamaica (RAJ) in the growing tension — if one can call it that — between the traditional real estate market and the fast-emerging short-term rental market.

Quite understandably, the RAJ and its members would be somewhat rattled by the speed with which the short-term renters, facilitated by online sites such as Airbnb and Booking.com, have won over Jamaicans who are always just waiting to pounce on an economic opportunity.

The RAJ appears to have decided to approach the issue from the standpoint of all that it sees as negative, where short rental is concerned, seemingly to frighten home-sharers and the general public about what are their own (realtors') fears.

Hence, they are pointing to perceived dangers, such as an increase in housing prices; shortage of housing; lack of regulation; inconvenience to neighbours; absence of insurance; security concerns, and the like, all related to the short-term rental sector.

The Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston was recently the venue for a brooding session organised by the RAJ in partnership with JN Bank. The symposium on short term rental was graced by Mrs Bennett-Cooper, who was largely reported to have shared the belly-aching by the realtors.

Of course, she might be able to claim that the reportage did not capture all that she had said and that she had not gone there to support the RAJ. We have not yet heard of any rebuttal by the Rent Board.

The issue is not a complex one. Jamaicans are born entrepreneurs. Provide an opportunity and watch them go at it. The short-term rental market is tailor-made for Jamaica, where landlords and tenants fight daily battles to collect rent or keep property in good condition.

As the Home-Sharing Association points out, lo­cal hosts earned about $1 bil­lion in 2017 from list­ings of around 6,000 rooms on Airbnb. It is suggested that a land­lord can earn a month's rent in about 10 days from short-term stays.

Obviously, any new industry must be regulated to protect all its stakeholders. This one is no different. Realtors might be worried about a formidable competitor posing a challenge to them, but the role of the Rent Board is not to take sides. We'd like to be assured that it isn't doing so in this case.

The Jamaican economy is becoming more sophisticated and more dynamic. New industries or sectors will keep emerging, like the marijuana and bamboo industries. There is space for everyone. The approach should not be to frighten off people, but to ensure that they are properly guided to operate within the law.

The Rent Board and its chairman, Mrs Bennett-Cooper — someone we respect as a good selection for the job — are well suited to lead in this role.

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