February 28, 2019
As it often happens, there may come a time during a tenancy when a dispute arises. These disputes can pop up over many different issues including lease agreements, tenant rights, responsibility for repairs to the property, rent, eviction and more.
Landlord and tenancy issues consistently rank on the list of top ten complaints made to the Council each month with illegal eviction attempts being a common feature. In the month of January alone, there were 48 Landlord and Tenancy complaints recorded at the Council. Some landlords failed to issue proper eviction notices and subjected tenants to ill treatment.
An eviction notice is part of the legal process of making a tenant vacate a rental home and this can leave consumers mulling over where or what they did wrong. There is also the added pressure of having to find a new home within a short span of time, look for money to settle the bond and the first month’s rent for a new property.
Unfortunately when tenants are issued with eviction notices without fair reasons, they sometimes panic and do not realise that they also have rights during the eviction process.
Sometimes tenants are informed verbally that they are being evicted and accept this on the assumption that he or she is in the wrong, failing to question why they are being required to vacate the rented property in the first place.
However, in Fiji it is illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant without providing a written notice first. There are two types of notices that are provided by landlords for eviction. These are called Notice to Vacate and Demand Notice.
Who can provide these notices?
A Notice to Vacate can be provided by either the landlord or a legal representative of the landlord. The notice period should be equivalent to at least one rent period as stipulated under Property Law, section 89 (2) (b) which states that:
“In the absence of express agreement between the parties, a tenancy of no fixed duration in respect of which the rent is payable weekly, monthly, yearly or for any other recurring period may be terminated by either party giving to the other written notice as follows:-
(b)where the rent is payable for any recurring period of less than one year, notice for at least a period equal to one rent period under the tenancy and expiring at any time, whether at the end of a rent period or not.
A Demand Notice is usually provided if a tenant fails to comply with the notice to vacate. This is issued by legal practitioners on behalf of the landlord. Demand notices stipulate deadlines and “demands” or list the requirements of the Landlord.
If a tenant fails to comply with requirements or meet demands within the allocated time frame, the landlord may seek the assistance of Court.
A demand notice or a notice to vacate can be issued by the landlord in the following ways:
- By giving it to the tenant in person;
- By issuing it to any responsible residing member of tenant’s family at the rented property; and
- By electronic or postal mailing system
The notice must:
- Be in writing;
- Be addressed to the tenant;
- Describe the rental property, usually by giving the address;
- State how much time the tenant has to fix the problem, if there is one; and
- Include the landlord’s address and the date of the notice.
Notice may also include the reasons for eviction by the landlord. Consumers should read notices carefully. If tenants wish to continue living on the same property, they need to make further arrangements with the landlord.
What are some grounds for eviction?
Some reasons landlords issue an eviction notice could include:
- Failure to pay rent;
- Failure to move when lease has ended;
- A violation of Tenancy Agreement
- Extensive and continued physical damage to the property; and
- Tenant’s involvement in illegal activity
Advice to Tenants
If you’ve received an eviction notice, consumers are urged to
- Read the entire eviction notice carefully. Although they are not very long, they are subject to a long list of strict legal requirements;
- Check their agreement thoroughly to check for violations; and
- Respond in a timely, if not urgent, manner.
Consumers are also advised to always communicate with the landlords if you are facing difficulties in paying rent on time.
What can’t landlords do?
Landlords cannot prevent an existing tenant from accessing a rented property without a written notice or eviction order from the court.
- Use force or threaten to use force to make you leave or keep you out of your home;
- Enter your home without your permission, unless it’s an emergency;
- Remove, withhold, or destroy your property;
- Change, alter, or add locks or security devices to the home without your permission;
- Board up the premises to prevent entry or make it more difficult;
- Cause an interruption or shut-off of water, electric, or gas service;
- Cause loud noises, bad odours, or other nuisances;
- Put your belongings out on the street;
- Disconnect electricity and water supply
If consumers believe they have been evicted unfairly, they are advised to call the Consumer Council of Fiji’s National Consumer Helpline on toll-free number 155.