Jamaica Gleaner / The Rent Assessment Board was last week left defending itself after landlords, suffering the pangs of unruly and delinquent tenants, questioned its relevance amid mounting complaints from homeowners.
Since the start of the year, the state agency said it has assisted with 1,863 eviction notices in addition to other queries regarding arrears and from desperate landlords seeking to increase rent. The figure was 1,912 in 2016, a reflection of both walk-in and telephone queries from landlords over the periods.
The state entity last Thursday provided the statistics in response to complaints filed by landlords entangled in long
battles with tenants that have left them fearful and in debt.
Renae Barrett, the owner of a two-bedroom unit in Union Estate, St Andrew, only recently succeeded in removing a tenant from her home after a one-and-a-half-year battle, in which she claimed she was threatened physically by her tenant, who is an ex-policeman.
Barrett said she rented the man the premises about two years ago. Upon entry to the home, he paid the deposit and two months rent in advance and promised to pay the $40,000 fee in full each month because he loved the place. That, however, did not happen.
“After that, every month there was another issue. At one point he was doing a business and said that he was waiting on a loan from the bank in order to pay me, and months after, that didn’t happen,” said Barrett, adding that her visits to the premises were met with threats.
“First of all, he has a badman attitude towards me because he is an ex-police, and when you go there he would curse and talk that he knows everybody, all judge, all police and how to bypass the system. He said I should just chill,” she said, noting that by this time the tenant had owed her more than $200,000 in rent.
“One day I called him and he told me to talk to his lawyer because the bank was holding up his money and he couldn’t pay me and I should hold on. I’ve been holding on since,” she said, noting that it was then she decided to take the matter to court.
That was when she sought the assistance of the Rent Assessment Board with handling the eviction.
“As far as I am concerned, the rent board cannot do anything for anybody. All they can do is give information. They are an information hub and the information is not always correct,” she said, noting that officers at the Rent Assessment Board counselled her in at least two contradictory ways on proceeding with the eviction.
“Everytime you call to ask for certain information on how to fill out the eviction notice form there is something different. They are not cohesive,” she said. “After they told me how to do the form, I took the notice to the court and they said it was invalid and that I had to redo it. And remember, the eviction has to be served before the next rent is due. If you pass that period you are going to have to wait until the next month to serve them the notice.”
Barrett said the tenant vacated the premises with more than $800,000 of unpaid rent earlier this year, and since then the house remains unoccupied as the ordeal has left her fearful of her next tenant. She said she expected more from the board.
Last Friday, acting director of the Rest Assessment Board, Leyton Baker, defended his staff’s training.
“We assist landlords in giving out notices, and every officer at the Rent Assessment Board, knows how to fill out the forms. The court won’t accept the case until that is sorted out. I can defend my staff on that,” said Baker, acknowledging that some members of the public believe the board is quicker to side with tenants than landlords. He, however, said that is not the case.
“The Rent Assessment Board is open to both landlords and tenants. They can come in and seek advice, make complaints against each other, and we advise and do whatever is necessary to solve the issues they have,” he said, noting that some landlords often wait until their tenants are completely out of control and in debt before they seek the agency’s assistance.
In the meantime, Dawn James, who lives in the United States, was livid after renting a couple her home in Greater Portmore, St Catherine, only to find more than a dozen persons occupying the premises upon her return this year.
She had asked them to pay the rent to an account, which they totally negated after a few months’ payment, she said, and proceeded to destroy the property, pouring cement and tar in the toilets and baths as well as ripping apart other household fixtures.
“I believe this is another way of capturing and doing extortion in Jamaica,” she said, noting that she has had to pay thousands of dollars to have the place repaired before it can be rented again.
When presented with the latter case, the Rent Assessment Board, in an official statement, said “One cannot put things in place to prevent this from happening … . Landlords must sue in the courts for damages, or if security deposit can cover damages, then deductions made.”