Rent reform law vowed

Lawmakers are this week expected to pass a law that will set out the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords in the Cayman Islands.

The Residential Tenancies Bill, which was debated in the Legislative Assembly Friday, will require leases to be set out in writing and will empower a new Residential Tenancies Commissioner to help mediate disputes between landlords and tenants.

‘This legislation will make it clear to all parties involved what their rights and obligations are,’ said Minister with responsibility for housing, Kurt Tibbetts.

‘I believe it will ultimately result in improved relations between landlords and tenants and an improvement in the quality of the residential housing stock,’ he said.

Under the proposed law, landlords will face fines for not putting new rental agreements in writing.

The law also sets out a list of details that should be listed on all rental agreements before it is signed by both parties. They include the amount of rent that is to be charged; the size of the security deposit; the period of notice that will be required to vacate a property; a list of goods left by the landlord; and a statement as to who is responsible for paying utilities.

Parties that find themselves in disputes will be required to attend mediation with the Residential Tenancy Commissioner before they can take a dispute to court.

Mr. Tibbetts expects this requirement will lead to cheaper resolutions and better relationships between tenants and landlords.

He said the need for a reform of residential tenancy laws was made clear by Hurricane Ivan, which slashed the amount of habitable rental housing available on Grand Cayman.

Tenants whose rental properties survived the storm without damage found themselves suddenly homeless as opportunistic landlords sought to attract higher rents from people desperate for accommodation, Mr. Tibbetts said.

In other cases, landlords were faced with tenants that were refusing to leave rental properties even though their lease had expired and rent payments were in arrears, he added.

‘By balancing the rights and obligations of the parties in a residential tenancy, I believe it will prevent a repeat of the problems we witnessed after Hurricane Ivan,’ Mr. Tibbetts predicted.

Sister Islands MLA Juliana O’Connor-Connolly welcomed the proposed law, saying she is pleased to see it deals with the issue of security deposits.

The law requires landlords hold security deposits on trust for tenants in a fixed interest account, with the interest falling due to the tenant at the expiry of the lease.

Any dispute over the amount of money that can be kept to pay for damages to property can be referred to the Residential Tenancy Commissioner, it further states.

Ms O’Connor-Connolly said deposits have been used for all the wrong purposes over the years, adding that too many landlords have treated it as a type of secondary rent.

George Town MLA Alfonso Wright said legislators have all heard stories of the atrocities that landlords committed against renters after Hurricane Ivan.

He said he hopes the law ensures that rental properties are up to a certain standard, noting that too many uninhabitable buildings have been leased out to desperate tenants over the years.

Sister Islands MLA Moses Kirkconnell welcomed the bill, which he said will make it easier to rent residential properties while at the same time assuring tenants there is a law that looks out for their rights.

Mr. Kirkconnell asked that thought be given to creating a standardised form for rental agreements.

Mr. Tibbetts said such a form is expected to be made available on the Internet and for pick up once a Residential Tenancies Commissioner is appointed.

After debating the bill Friday afternoon, lawmakers voted the bill through the important second reading stage, however Mr. Tibbetts indicated some amendment will be made to the bill this week before a third and final vote.

Opposition lawmakers are expected to support the bill’s passage through the house, allowing it to move onto the Governor to sign into law.

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