23 January 2013

Gambia: Rent Tribunal Officials Decry Attitude of Shylock Landlords

The exploitative tendencies of certain landlords within the Greater Banjul have attracted the attention of Rent Tribunal officials, who have called for an immediate end to the practice.

The issue of freequent and high rental increment by some landlords has in recent times been a subject of discussion among concerned citizens who are of the view that such practices are not only exploitative and unjustifiable, but also a flagrant violation of the laws governing the Rent Act. In fact, the issue has time and time again been a subject of debate by some lawmakers during their sittings with the latest being the Assembly's end of year parliamentary sessions.

Apart from condemning the high rental fees charged by landlords, many concerned Gambians also decry the advance quarterly or half-yearly deposits requested by these landlords. In most instances, tenants are requested to pay three, six or twelve months deposits before they are given a house as apposed to the generally acceptable system of monthly payment.

Concerned by this state of affairs, this reporter was assigned to meet the principal Rent Tribunal officers in the Kanifing Municipality and the West Coast Region, to elicit their reactions on the issue and the way forward.

The principal officer at the Brikama Rent Tribunal, Modou Camara, told the Daily Observer that following a recent thorough inspection and evaluation of properties within its jurisdiction, his office has launched a mass rentreduction campaign of properties, designed to ensure that renting fees attached to the properties are inline with the Rent Tribunal Act.

"The campaign was triggered after my office realised that some landlords are bent on gradual increment of their rents on their own accord with some even charging foreign currency on their properties without following the rules stipulated in the Rent Tribunal Act," he told the Daily Observer.

"Several properties were affected by the exercise, especially those landlords who were overpricing their houses. Those charging D1,500 for a room and a parlour were reduced to D500; double room and a parlour that used to be charged D3,500 is now pegged at D1,500 per month respectively. In fact one Dutch man was caught charging 250 Euros for a double room and a parlour," he added.

Camara stressed that all those who were found arbitrarily violating the Act shall be brought to the Tribunal and will receive a minimum fine of D5000 or two years imprisonment. He vowed that the exercise will continue until all the properties that are on rent within their jurisdiction are all covered to ensure that landlords comply with the Act.

The principal rent officer underscored that the inspection and evaluation exercise will help ease the problems faced by the tenants. He pointed out that houses are lifetime properties and that the cost incurred on a property can be recovered in the long-term. "If the landlords want to recover it in the short term, tenants who toil hard on daily basis to come to terms with their domestic challenges, will suffer severely," he stated.

Camara used the opportunity to urge landlords to register all their properties with the Rent Tribunal for routine inspections, warning that anyone found wanting will be slapped with a maximum fine of D5,000 or two years imprisonment. On the other hand, Camara also urged all tenants to report to the Rent Tribunal any landlord found imposing excessive prices on their properties and for those who demand for more than a month deposit. "The Tribunal will take immediate action against the offender. Many tenants are reluctant to come forward and report such malpractices to the Tribunal," he lamented.

He further lamented that lack of cooperation by the tenants in fishing out unscrupulous and exploitative landlords would make their task difficult. He used this medium to appeal to the higher authorities to give them the maximum support in the area of mobility, human resources and a tribunal court room to enable them execute their functions effectively.

When this reporter contacted the rent tribunal manager at the Kanifing Municipal Council, Omar Sey, for comments on the issue, the latter frowned at the so-called agent or agencies who act as representatives of the landlords in dealing with the tenants.

"No landlord or agent can arbitrarily make any rent increment on his or her own without applying through the Rent Tribunal who will therefore evaluate and inspect that particular property, and will determine the necessary rent increment of the property. Even where such an application is done, an inspection is conducted by the Tribunal to check theimprovement on renovation made by the applicant(landlord)," he explained.

Sey, whose Tribunal is yet to embark on a rent inspection and reduction campaign like the Brikama Rent Tribunal, warned landlords and agents to desist from asking months advance payment or arbitrary increment of rent on their own without following the right procedure.

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