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The collection of security deposits by landlords is to be legalized when the Rent Restriction Act is amended in the next legislative year.
The Rent Services Unit in the Ministry of Housing, Transport, Water and Works, as part of its regulatory function, is currently making a number of amendments to the Rent Restriction Act, which is to go before Parliament.
“With the proposed amendments, a maximum of two months is being recommended for which landlords can charge security fees,” said Director of Rent Services, Cecile Croll.
Ms. Croll, who was addressing a recent JIS Think Tank, said that the amended Act would also increase the sanctions for landlords who fail to register their properties with the Unit. “[It will also have new] sanctions and penalties for [landlords] not registered with the Unit,” she stated.
“Currently, it costs only $20 to register and every person who is renting their property needs to be registered with the Rent Assessment Board,” she added.
She pointed out that the law governing registration will serve to protect the rights of a tenant, as upon registration, a landlord will have to adhere to the regulation governing rental increases.
Other amendments will be made to the Act to provide for the extension of the exemption clause, to incorporate more business entities. Once exempt, the Rent Services Unit will have no jurisdiction over such properties, which will automatically fall within the jurisdiction of the court. Hotels and resorts, factories, aerodromes and free zones are already exempt under the law.
Ms. Croll further noted that there will be changes relating to the calculation of the value of a property for rental. This means that there will no longer be a base rate entrenched into law (a set rate at which the rental calculation is done) that will determine the value of a property. “The old Act speaks of a base year and the base year is currently 1980 and now is 2007 so instead of sticking to a particular date there will be some allowance in terms of how the calculation is done,” she explained.
In the meantime, Ms. Croll said that the Rent Services Unit is looking to extend its services across the island to increase accessibility to persons outside of Kingston and St. Andrew.
“We might not have a physical office in these (rural) areas but at least we’ll have a presence. Once the demand comes in, we will avail ourselves to be at a particular location, where, on a particular date, persons having rental issues may come in to see us, instead of them having to come into Kingston. So this is one of the areas we are looking into in terms of extending our services,” she informed.
The Director of Rent Services also advised complainants to visit the Rent Services Unit, prior to taking their cases to court, except in instances that pertain to the recovery of property, which does not fall under its jurisdiction.
With respect to filing a complaint, the complainant may call the Unit and request a complaint form, which is also available by fax. After the complainant submits the form, the Unit will arrange a meeting with the parties in question, at which stage both parties will provide the relevant documentation that relates to the issue or issues being dealt with.
The Rent Services Unit was established in 2004 and offers administrative support to the Rent Assessment Board. The board, established in 1944, has been incorporated within the Unit, and focuses on administering the judicial aspect of the Rent Restriction Act.