Today’s Editorial March 17: Rent reform needed

It’s taken far too long, but kudos nevertheless should go to the government for bringing the much-needed Residential Tenancies Bill to the Legislative Assembly last Friday.

Once the bill becomes law, it will help define the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants in the Cayman Islands.

Although Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts pointed to some instances in the past where landlords couldn’t get tenants to vacate a rental property – even if they were behind on their rent – the new law will particularly help tenants, who have been treated shabbily for decades by some unscrupulous landlords.

By requiring, first off, that all leases be in writing, terms of the agreement will be more straight forward and more difficult to deny at a later date. Having the terms spelled out will also serve as a reminder to the parties of the agreement of their respective responsibilities.

One aspect of the new law that is most welcome concerns security deposits. As Cayman Brac and Little Cayman MLA Juliana O’Connor-Connolly pointed out during the House debate, many landlords have treated security deposits as a type of secondary rent. Some landlords have refused to return security deposits even if tenants have met all the conditions of their tenancy and have not caused damage beyond the normal wear-and-tear that would be expected of their occupancy. The new law will hopefully reduce the instances of this practice.

The new law should also prevent landlords from doing what some did after Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Because of all the damage caused to accommodations during the storm, many people were left homeless and rental properties were in high demand. The high demand caused rental rates to soar and some greedy landlords did not think twice about raising the rents on existing tenants so they could cash in on the opportunity. If the tenants refused to pay the higher rents, there were instances where they were put out of the dwelling so the landlord could find a tenant who would pay the higher rent.

Because of the costs involved in taking unscrupulous landlords to court, many got away with their abhorrent behaviour.

Like any other law, however, the usefulness of the Residential Tenancies Law will be determined by its enforcement.

Hopefully, the Residential Tenancy Commissioner, which the law creates and empowers, will actively fight for tenants’ rights and ensure underhanded landlords aren’t allowed to mistreat tenants in the future.

One aspect of the new law that is most welcome concerns security deposits. As Cayman Brac and Little Cayman MLA Juliana O’Connor-Connolly pointed out during the House debate, many landlords have treated security deposits as a type of secondary rent. Some landlords have refused to return security deposits even if tenants have met all the conditions of their tenancy and have not caused damage beyond the normal wear-and-tear that would be expected of their occupancy. The new law will hopefully reduce the instances of this practice.

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