Property owners cautioned on rental freeze removal

24/11/2008 16:24

The Consumer Council of Fiji cautions property owners on rent increments following the announcement on the removal of rental freeze in the 2009 Budget from 1st January 2009. The Consumer Council would like to clarify to property owners that in the 2009 Budget announcement the government has lifted the price control or the rent freeze on commercial properties only and not on residential properties. This means that the rental freeze on residential properties remains until further notice. Property owners of residential dwellings who have let out their premises for rent to individuals therefore cannot increase rental charges of their tenants.

The Council has begun receiving complaints and concerns from tenants of residential properties who are being told by their landlords to expect increases in their rental charges come January 2009. Landlords of residential dwellings should adhere to the rental freeze directive that was put in place in June this year and any non compliance can expose landlords to prosecution by the Prices and Incomes Board (PIB). Property owners are at liberty to establish any amount of rent at the initial stage of letting out their premises. However, under the Counter-Inflation Act they are held accountable to the Prices and Incomes Board when seeking to increase the rental rate. PIB exists to protect tenants from unauthorised rent increases. Tenants are therefore encouraged to approach the office of the PIB to lodge their complaints if they are subjected to an unfair rental increase.

The Council is pleased the rent charges restriction on residential properties has remained in the 2009 Budget.  Given that a significant number of people are accommodated in rented out premises and that rents charged in most cases are extremely high, the continued restriction will ensure consumers are able to afford their housing needs.  The most reoccurring complaint registered by the Council is residential tenancy, which stands at a high of 371 from January – October 2008. High rental rates are included in the total number of complaints received.

The Council maintains that rental freeze is a short-term solution. However, for the long-term it is imperative that the laws governing residential tenancy in Fiji are reviewed to ensure protection for both tenants and landlords. The residential tenancy legislations have been in existence since 1978. Their archaic nature fails to address contemporary tenancy issues. An Issues Paper on Residential Tenancy is being compiled by the Council, which will be forwarded for consideration by the respective authority.

Meanwhile, the Council reiterates its call to landlords and tenants to become aware and educate and inform themselves about their rights and responsibilities contained in the residential tenancy laws. They are encouraged to seek advice from PIB or the Consumer Council on rental issues that the organisations deal with.