LOBBY group Equality for All Jamaica Foundation Ltd, which bats for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, is calling for further thought to be given to the proposed amendments for the Rent Act, arguing that presently the statute offers no protection to a number of groups including those it represents.
This comes on the heels of recent pronouncements by Housing Minister Pearnel Charles Jr indicating that amendments would be made to the Rent Restriction Act, 1994, to provide opportunity for more people to get into the real estate industry. These amendments to the statute, which was last amended 37 years ago, he said, would address issues such as security, recovery of possession and notice to quit “to create a better and a more judicious balance between the landlord and the tenant”.
But the foundation, in a letter to the editor of the Jamaica Observer yesterday, argued that “while the amendments may help to boost the real estate sector, this may also make finding living spaces even more difficult for individuals already face challenges in this respect”.
It said although the Rent Restriction Act is crafted to protect tenants from landlords acting unreasonably, “there is a lack of protection from discrimination under the legislation and the Constitution”.
According to the lobby group, the present Act is woefully deficient in this respect. “Section 4 (a) of the Act prohibits landlords from denying someone a living space on the basis that a child would also reside in the premises. However, this is the extent of anti-discrimination provisions. Section 25 (1)(c) empowers landlords to evict tenants if they or any of their occupants are guilty of conduct which is deemed a nuisance or annoyance to other tenants or where tenants are using the premises for what landlords deem is an immoral purpose,” the group said.
According to the foundation, “this provision creates a space where discrimination in housing can occur because the prevalence of homophobic and transphobic attitudes in Jamaica means landlords could argue that homosexuality is immoral and that tenants are engaging in homosexual acts. A Christian landlord can also discriminate against people who identify with other religions on the basis that the other religions and their respective practices are immoral.”
Consequently, it said, “Section 25 (1)(c) of the Act should be amended to clearly define what is immoral propose and annoyance/nuisance conduct as the terms are ambiguous and left up to interpretation”.
“This, along with comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, are needed to address the discrimination faced by current and prospective tenants to ensure that their rights are protected,” the group said further.
The suggestion, however, has not found favour with the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship (LCF), an interdenominational association of members of the legal profession, including law students and teachers of law in Jamaica.
President of the group Helene Coley Nicholson, responding to the arguments of the foundation at the invitation of the Observer, said the group was “advocating in favour of legislation that would rob Jamaicans of their right to act in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs and conscience”.
“Under the Jamaican Constitution, all human beings, including Christian and non-Christian landlords, have the same fundamental human rights and freedoms. The Equality Foundation is asking Government, through amendments to the Rent Restriction Act, to take away rights and persecute and suppress not just landlords, but anyone who disagrees with the homosexual lifestyle and behaviour,” Coley Nicholson said further.
“Applying that principle generally, all commercial and non-commercial sectors, including real estate, could be affected. Business persons would no longer be free to determine with whom they will or will not do business, pastors and marriage officers, in the LGBT paradigm, should be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, and teachers should be compelled to teach children that heterosexual and homosexual relationships are the same,” she noted.
In the meantime, the LCF president charged that the foundation, “is picking on Christian landlords in particular”.
“Their statement seeks to pit persons of different religions against Christian landlords. This is because the Christian faith, unlike other religions, adheres to the tenet that no man comes to the father except exclusively through Christ,” she said.
Added Coley Nicholson: “As a practical matter, it would be impossible to amend the law to define immorality, nuisance and what constitutes annoyance, as the scope of such conduct is so wide as to be inexhaustible.”