The Rent Restriction Act (‘the Act”) which was passed over seventy-five years ago and last amended in the year 1985 is the primary legislation used by many to govern the relationship between landlords and their tenants.
Given the age of the Act, many are of the view that it is in dire need of updating as the realities that existed 75 years ago which shaped and formulated the provisions in the Act have significantly evolved. Not only is the Act outdated, but it is also considered to be skewed in the favour of tenants as many of the penalties and restrictions outlined in the Act are only imposed on landlords.
In an attempt to achieve a more balanced Act where the rights of landlords are also protected and with a view to making the Act reflective of the current realities that face both landlords and tenants, the government has called for an updated Act.
Below I have highlighted a few of the proposed amendments which will assist in balancing the rights of landlords and addressing issues that exist between landlords and tenants:
- Restrictions of right to possession – Currently a landlord can only recover possession of his/her property if the reason for such possession falls squarely within the provisions of the Act. Some of these reasons include but are not limited to: the tenant’s rent is outstanding for 30 days or more; the landlord requires the property for his own occupation; the property is in need of repairs or the tenant has first given notice to quit to the landlord and in consequence of that notice the landlord has contracted to sell or rent the property.Apart from the non-payment of rent another common reason many landlords require possession of the property is because he or she intends to sell. A landlord who intends to sell his/her property cannot under the current Act use that as a ground for recovery of possession.
One of the proposed amendments to the Act includes the landlord’s ability to recover possession of his/her premises where the landlord has entered into a contract to sell the property being rented and has given the tenant at least two months’ notice of this sale.
- Limitation of the postponement of the date of repossession – A landlord usually has to wait at least 60 days before he/she can commence proceedings against a tenant for recovery of possession. In many instances the breach of the tenant’s obligations must be occurring for at least 30 days and a notice must be given to the tenant to rectify the breach within another 30 days before the landlord can consider commencing proceedings against the tenant. It is also not unusual for the Court to provide the tenant with additional time in the property to remedy the breach, even though the tenant may be in arrears for several months. For many landlords this causes significant financial hardship and the landlord is set back for months before he/she can obtain possession of the property. Generally, the proposed amendment provides that only in circumstances where, at the time of the hearing the tenant has outstanding rent and utility bills not exceeding one month, should postponement of the date of repossession be permitted. Therefore, a tenant in arrears for more than one month will not be able to request an extension of time to stay at the property.
- Jurisdiction of the Rent Board to adjudicate on recovery of possession matters – It is proposed to amend the Act to allow the Rent Board concurrent jurisdiction to hear applications for recovery of possession matters, in order to facilitate more expedient adjudication of these matters providing both landlord and tenant with an alternative to Court.
- Security Deposits – The Act is currently silent on the issue of security deposits. There is still uncertainty as to whether the collection of a security deposit from a tenant is lawful under the Act. The proposed amendments will seek to clarify this issue by:
- providing a comprehensive definition of the term “Security Deposit” and the provisions governing the collection, use and retention of same by the landlord;
- adopting what is common practice in Jamaica, which is, that a landlord will be allowed the option to require a security deposit;
- providing limited instances in which the landlord can use or apply such security deposits;
- allowing application or use of the security deposit or a part thereof for the purpose of payment of arrears in rent or to effect repairs to damage done by the tenant or his visitor;
- providing that the security deposit should be equal to one month’s rent for unfurnished premises and two month’s rent if the premises is furnished; and
- providing that security deposits should be returned to tenants within one month or six weeks of the tenant vacating the premises, along with an itemized statement indicating how the security deposit was applied.
The above only represents a small part of what is being considered in the proposed amendments to the Rent Restriction Act. Other proposed amendments include but are not limited to: registration of landlords with the Rent Board; the introduction of regulations governing short term rentals and licences; the establishment of a Rent Tribunal; and minimum standards of rental premises. While the proposed amendments are in their preliminary stages, some of them appear to present solutions to the deficiencies contained in the current Act.
Natasha Rickards is an Associate at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon and is a member of the firm’s Property Department. Natasha may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or www.myersfletcher.com. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.