Elderly landlord has to wait 8 months to take non-paying tenant to courtTuesday, April 20, 2021
BY ROMARDO LYONS
The plight of a 75-year-old Government pensioner worsened in recent weeks when her attempt to have the court evict a tenant who has not paid rent for a three-bedroom house since January resulted in the matter being set for hearing in another eight months.
Attorney Bert Samuels, who is representing the pensioner, said he has filed an action for “possession and for rent owning and continuing” in the Corporate Area Parish Court; however, when the summons was received, the court appearance was scheduled for a December 2021 date.
“She was horrified to know that in the past it would've taken two months for her to be in court, and [now] it has gone to eight months for her first date,” Samuels told the Jamaica Observer.
“What is this pensioner, who relied on the rent to put pot on fire, to do? When her property taxes are to be paid, what will she do?” he asked, adding that since his client retired 10 years ago she had been renting the house in order to supplement her Government pension.
“This delay of eight months amounts to a denial of justice for my senior citizen landlord. All her savings were used to acquire what she thought was a good investment to supplement her meagre pension payments. This appalling situation must be addressed and addressed very soon. Once this summons is served on the tenant, the tenant will very likely refuse to pay another dollar's rent,” Samuels said.
The tenant, a woman, has reportedly paid no rent since January, which resulted in the landlord giving her notice to quit in February. That notice expired in March.
According to the Rent Assessment Board, “Tenants need to know that although they are on notice to quit they are obligated to pay rental until the premises are vacated. If rental is not paid, they would be in arrears of rental and could be sued to recover same.”
The board also stipulates that if tenants are unable to pay rent they have a duty to go to the landlord and make the necessary arrangements.
The board advises that landlords cannot sue for rent unless it is 30 days overdue. Additionally, if utilities are unpaid by the tenant, landlords can sue tenants for outstanding amounts.
Samuels said his client will be left to pay interest on the property taxes when she pays late, but will receive no interest on her rent “if and when” she collects it.
“I said if and when she collects because tenants, more often than not, disappear after they move out, owing rent. The wily tenant moves in, pays the first month's rent, and soon thereafter they cease paying. They know full well that the wheels of justice grind so slow,” the lawyer said.
“By the time the landlord applies for a court date and obtains an order from the court 12 months or more of free occupation has lapsed and thereafter they move out by night and disappear with one year's rental owing. They leave behind a hefty water and light bill also. Many retirees have elected to lock up their lettings rather than expose themselves to the abuse of some tenants,” added Samuels.
The Landlord Tenant Covenant outlines that a tenant is obligated to notify his/her landlord before vacating any rented property and should also make arrangements to pay outstanding rent “prior to vacating or within a reasonable time thereafter”.
The tenant should also provide an address “at which, if necessary, process for rent recovery may be served”.
Yesterday, Samuels said he was upset at having to tell his client that she has to wait eight months before going before the court.
“I felt helpless that here was a case of abuse; they delay in justice and I had no answers or quick fixing for the client. And, therefore, it's my call and cry for the system to be improved, because people will seek extrajudicial methods to get people out of their premises, and it is a criminal offence to interfere with the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the property by the tenant. So you're caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Samuels.
“This is a call, even with the restrictions imposed by COVID, for immediate action to be taken to address the injustice to landlords who, in most instances, are elderly and pensioners who receive rent as their main source of income. And this call is not just for rental matters; it's any case that comes up now during COVID,” he added.
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