Rent Increase investigation made easy with Rent Freeze Order

February 13, 2018

Landlords have often increased the rent of their premises discreetly without the knowledge of the tenants. The Council has encountered unscrupulous landlords who disregarded rent freeze order and used various tactics to increase rents. Landlords sometimes use renovation as an excuse to evict sitting tenants so that rent can be increased for the incoming tenants.

According to the Rent Freeze Order, property owners (including the State) of residential dwellings and ground rents, cannot increase rent till 31 December 2018. Any premises rented out for the first time are also not subject to the Order, but any increase thereafter will be subject to the restriction.

In a recent case received by the Council, it was established that a landlord increased the rent of his flat from $320 to $400 without any reason.

Litia was renting in a two bedroom flat with her husband in Lautoka. The agreed rent amount to be paid on the first of every month was set at $320. However, after 7 months the landlord visited them and stated that from the following month he will be collecting $400 in rent. When questioned by Litia on the sudden increase without any prior notice or reasoning, the landlord simply stated that the rent will be increased and if they do not wish to pay the increase in rent, then they can look for alternative place for renting. Litia could not accept the fact that her rented flat was in the same condition but she is expected to pay $80 more every month.

For few months, Litia and her husband paid the increased rent as they were unable to find another flat closer to their work place and other necessities.

However, after some time, the couple started facing financial problems and the $80 increase was affecting their household budget. In order to establish whether it was legitimate to charge increased rent, Litia visited the Council office for assistance.

Litia was informed that the residential Rent Freeze Order was in place, where the landlord cannot increase the rent. The Council contacted the landlord for immediate redress. Unfortunately, the landlord refused to refund the excess rent he was charging. The Council referred the matter to the Fiji Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) being an enforcement agency.

Now with the Rent Freeze Order extended for another year, the Council calls on landlords to get their act together and comply with the law in place.

From 1 January 2016, it is also compulsory for all landlords to provide duly executed tenancy agreements and copies of receipts for disputes filed at the FCCC. FCCC will be in a better position to check the documents (tenancy agreements and receipts) to establish any increase in rent by the landlord. It further requires landlord to maintain a proper record of the agreements and receipts. The records must be kept for ease of reference for the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) when required.

Any rent increase by the landlord without FCCC’s intervention and approval would be deemed illegal. There is on spot fine of up to $2000 against those who breach the law.

Every year complaints pertaining to landlords and tenants appear amongst top 5 recurring issues noted by the Council. Despite efforts to create awareness amongst both parties (landlord and tenants), the Council unfailingly notes an increase in complaints in this area.

The Council has in the past three years received a total of 954 complaints regarding landlords and tenants. High rental rates are included in the total number of complaints received

Access to adequate housing is a crucial need in every person’s life and for those who cannot afford to purchase a house, heavily depend on rented premises for shelter. Unfortunately, some people who resort to rented houses are subject to strict and unwarranted rules, poor condition with fake promises of repair, non-issuance of receipts upon payment, non-refund of bond money, unfair eviction and above all fluctuating rate of rental payment.

The Council would like to remind tenants that they will be required to pay $10 for stamp duty per tenancy agreement if their monthly rental is below $700; rent ranging from $700 to $1,500 will be required to pay $20 as stamp duty and rental rate above $1,500 will be required to pay $500 for stamp duty.

Tenants are encouraged to approach the office of Consumer Council of Fiji or FCCC to lodge their complaints if they are subjected to an unfair rental increase or stamp duty charges