Homes & Gardens
Monday, 07 February 2011 06:55
By D Francis
Landlords have their work cut out for them in trying to ensure that tenants are comfortable, and that they stick to their lease agreements, mostly as far as paying on time.
Many landlords, however, say the financial downturn is making it more difficult for their already delinquent tenants to make payments.
There are options for dealing with situations like this, although some tend to take matters into their own hands by using threats, harassing their tenants, or even boarding up to the property to block entrance.
One landlord said his tenant has been evading him for months, and owes thousands of dollars, so he had to take the matter to court. “No matter what time I go there morning, noon, or night, I never meet this woman (Antiguan)," he said. "She never answers her phone, but the neighbours said she comes, collects things, and go.”
Another landlord said she found an unpleasant surprise one morning when she came to collect the rent. She was wrapping on the door, but didn't realise that the tenant no longer lived there. “The curtains were still up, so I didn’t have a clue that the man - a Guyanese - moved out of the house.” She had to ask someone to help her get in by breaking the lock, and except for a mattress on the floor, the house key, and the curtains, the house was empty.
Caribarena.com spoke with attorney Hugh Marshall Jr about landlords' legal rights in situations like these.DF: What options does a landlord have when a tenant owes him or her rent?
ATTORNEY: If the rent is less than 30 days overdue, the landlord may do what is called levy distress. This means going on to the premises and taking possession of the tenant's belongings for purposes of selling to recover the rent owed. This must be done in accordance with the Rent Recovery Act of Antigua and Barbuda. Certain papers have to be filed at the Court Registry and the levying has to be done by a court appointed bailiff.DF: Can you levy distress over 30 days?
ATTORNEY: Yes, distress can always be levied once the relationship of landlord and tenant exists, but cannot be used to recover rent if the landlord or the tenant brings that relationship to an end.DF: So what is the importance of the 30 days?
ATTORNEY: Generally speaking, a landlord who is owed rent cannot serve a valid notice to quit until the rental is 30 days or more in arrears. This is by reason of the Rent Restriction Act of Antigua & Barbuda. The service of this notice usually brings the relationship of landlord and tenant to an end.DF: What happens if they don't comply with the notice? Can the landlord just come and lock you out?
ATTORNEY: No, a landlord cannot just lock out a tenant. They must bring proceedings in the court for the rent owed, damages for money lost, and for an order of possession.DF: What is this order of possession?
ATTORNEY: This is what enables a landlord to forcefully remove a tenant from the property. It is done by the court bailiff, usually under the supervision of the police.DF: How long does this take?
ATTORNEY: Longer than a landlord would wish, and too short for a defaulting tenant. If the rent and amount owed are less than $12,000 per year, it may be done in the Magistrate's Court and take a few months in total if all goes well. If it’s over that amount, it must be done in the High Court and can a take as much as eight months. Don't be fearful of the time. It is worthwhile doing it right, both for the tenant and the landlord.DF: What of tenants who run away owing landlords?
ATTORNEY: If the property is abandoned, a landlord must secure his/her property. In the absence of a tenant, a landlord can sue and obtain judgement. If the tenant leaves property behind, recovery can be had against the property.
Sometimes you know where the tenant has gone to, in which case, if it is a Commonwealth country, you can invariably register the judgement there and make recovery. If you know he or she is leaving before they actually do, you may be able to have them arrested under the Debtors Absconding Act.