Landlord and Tenancy: A Concern That Needs Immediate Attention
January 19, 2017
Over the years the State has focused on improving the socio-economic status of all Fijians. This is especially true for those on the margins of our society, so as to ensure that all consumers have access to affordable and quality housing.
Access to affordable and proper housing should be more readily available to all consumers. However, there are many consumers who are suffering at the hands of their landlords.
The Consumer Council of Fiji continues to receive complaints from consumers against their landlords.
In 2016, complaints in relation to Landlord and Tenancy ranked second on the Council’s list with a total of 199 complaints. Issues brought to the Council under this category ranges from landlords not issuing rental receipts to tenants despite several requests, landlords not giving a month’s written notice to vacate, illegal increase in rent despite the residential rent freeze and poor housing conditions.
The Council has recorded a total of 3,745 complaints related to landlord and tenancy in the last five years. This includes complaints against landlords who increased the rents despite the Rental Freeze Order.
In addition, grievances were also received from consumers whose landlords refused to refund rental bonds/deposits and gave unjustified quotations for wear and tear of their rented premises.
Some landlords even disconnected water and electricity supply to the tenants’ flats. Dealing with such unscrupulous landlords is not easy but the council makes an effort to contact them to amicably resolve complaints.
One of the significant issues faced by consumers is where landlords provide unfair tenancy contracts to their tenants. The case study below discusses the said issue:
Mr. A was handed a notice by his landlord to vacate the flat which he has been renting. The contract was valid for a year which had certain terms for Mr. A as a tenant to adhere to. The landlord found that Mr. A breached the contract which he agreed to and signed. Upon receiving the notice Mr. A sought the services of the Council as his argument was that the landlord cannot ask him to vacate the flat in the middle of the contracted period of his tenancy. Mr. A also argued that the terms and conditions of the contract are not justified. The Council sighted the contract and found that the terms and conditions were unfair and not consumer friendly. The contract stated that a $5 penalty fee per day would be charged for late payments of the rent. The agreement also stated that bond would not be refunded if the tenant leaves before the expiry of the contract. The Council liaised with the landlord who agreed to amend the terms & conditions of the tenancy agreement.
The national law is silent on penalty charges and does not allow the landlords to charge any extra. It is always understandable that the rent will be paid on the day specified in the contract. Written notice of approximately 30 days can be given to the other party if a tenancy agreement is to be ended due to some reasons. The landlords can deduct for ONLY the damages done to the premises, rental dues and the utility bills owed from the bond money whereas the remaining balance is subjected to refund.
Moreover, the recent extension of the Rent Freeze Order is good news for tenants in Fiji.
The Order prohibits property owners of residential dwellings from increasing rent above the level that was applicable to the same premises as of 31 December 2016.
Extension of the Rent Freeze Order should stop landlords from unreasonably increasing rents.
Even though the rental freeze law may be a short term solution to control and ensure fair treatment of tenants, and the Council is positive that this initiative will curb the sky- rocketing complaints received every year, since a Penalty Spot Fine of up to $2,000 can be a deterrent.
The Council is hopeful that a Residential Tenancy Act is implemented soon in Fiji to provide a fair marketplace for all landlords and tenants.
In the meantime, all residential tenants are encouraged to seek advice from Fiji Commerce Commission or the Consumer Council of Fiji on residential rental issues. Also consumer can lodge complaints against landlords who fail to comply with the Rental Freeze Order that is now in place.
Consumers are advised not to entertain such practice and report this to the relevant authorities or call us on our National Consumer Helpline number, 155 to seek advice or to lodge any complaints.