PHILIPSBURG–Alluding to complaints that have reached her office, Ombudsman Gwendolien Mossel said on Thursday that she was concerned about possible evictions during and after the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic that the country is currently battling.
In light of the present closure of the Rent Committee and the limited operations at the Court House, the Ombudsman reminded landlords and tenants that a change in the rental fee is only possible with permission of the Rent Committee, for living spaces with a market value not exceeding NAf. 200.000, or a court verdict.
Additionally, in the event of a disputed termination of a rental lease agreement and thus eviction by a landlord, this can only take place with permission from the Rent Committee, in accordance with article 7:248 of the Civil Code, or the Court in First Instance.
Evicting tenants without following the legal procedures is against the law, Mossel said. According to the 2019 Labour Force Survey, carried out by the Department of Statistics, 61% of all housing units in St. Maarten are rental units.
The Ombudsman reemphasized the important role of the Rent Committee that is charged with the settling of disputes regarding rental prices and termination of lease agreements. The Civil Code which regulates the rental committee and lease agreements ensures that both tenants and landlords are able to address the Court if they are not in agreement with the decision of the Rent Committee.
In the case of an unlawful eviction, tenants are urged to contact the police. After Hurricane Irma, the Ombudsman concluded a systemic investigation related to the functioning of the Rent Committee/Rent Tribunal (RT), to address the many challenges that the institute faced, which for a great part, have remained uncorrected until present.
Applauding the initiative of government to include the Rent Tribunal in the Stimulus Plan by providing increased support to the institution as well as encouraging landlords to not evict tenants, the Ombudsman notes that this increased support and encouragement requires further quantification soonest to be effective.
“First and foremost, the Rent Tribunal must be provided with the necessary personnel and office supplies in order to properly execute its task while the country faces another major crisis,” Mossel said.
The Ombudsman commended the Prime Minister and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on their efforts to keep the community safe and urges the population to follow the directives of government during this worldwide pandemic.
“Stay at home and save lives. This is the only way we can flatten the curve and hopefully return to a semblance of normalcy, sooner rather than later,” Mossel said.