A restriction to the increase of residential and ground rent has been lauded by the Consumer Council of Fiji, which welcomed the move as “good news” for local tenants.
The restriction was enforced on January 1 by the Fiji Commerce Commission, and is an extension to an initial rental freeze incepted in March 2007.
Consumer Council officer-in-charge Bindula Devi said the extension would assist tenants in getting affordable housing, particularly as many consumers faced difficulties in finding decent homes to rent.
“The extension of the Rent Freeze Order should avoid landlords from unreasonably increasing rent,” she said.
“As such, many consumers at ease with such a policy in place. They do not have to dig deep into their pockets for extra money to pay their rent.”
The restriction forbids landlords from increasing rental charges between January 1 and December 31 this year.
Devi said that while it would be high time to flat-hunt for some families and individuals, some tenants would be renewing their tenancy agreements at the beginning of the year of within.
Complaints relating to landlords and tenancy ranked second on the Council’s list in 2016 with a total of 199 complaints.
Issues included the non-refund of bond money, landlords not issuing rental receipts despite requests, landlords not giving a month’s written notice to vacate, illegal increases to rental charges despite the rental 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,” Devi noted.
“This included complaints against landlords who increased rent despite the Rental Freeze Order. Although some landlords were not aware of the increase in rent being illegal, some unscrupulous landlords were completely ignorant of the law.
“Landlords should refrain from increasing rent on their residential properties, unless approved by the Fiji Commerce Commission (FCC) and failing to comply will lead to prosecution by the FCC.”
The Consumer Council noted that property owners were at liberty to establish initial rent, but any increase in rent after that must be endorsed by the FCC.
The Order also enforces the mandatory provision of tenancy agreements and receipts by landlords to their tenants, with a spot fine of up to $2000 for offenders.
Devi said that although the rental freeze had been a short-term solution to controlling and ensuring fair treatment of tenants, the Council was optimistic that the initiative would help curb the high number of complaints they received on landlord and tenancy issues.
She said they also anticipated the implementation of the Residential Tenancy Act, noting that it was high time Fiji had a specific legislation that deals with all landlord and tenancy issues.
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