The Housing Minister has launched a probe into a private estate planning “drastic rent increases” in the autumn.
Senator Sam Mézec is now calling for the current rent freeze to be extended while he draws up measures to stabilise the market.
He launched the investigation into the estate after being approached by a tenant facing as much as an 80% rent increase once the emergency rent freeze brought in to protect islanders during the pandemic falls away at the end of September.
Elaborating on the kinds of reports he’s been receiving, Senator Mézec told Express: “There’s a particular estate on the island where I’m receiving a few reports from people there that rents are being proposed to go up quite dramatically in October. The people in that estate are reacting differently to it; some are terrified whereas some are just going to move and go somewhere else, so they’re not complaining. Every report back to me is completely different."
Speaking about the report where the tenant was facing an 80% rent increase, he said that he was concerned that the issue may also be affecting other properties in the area, adding: “With that specific case I’ve asked for Environmental Health department to look at it to see firstly if it’s legal and if it’s not how that can be dealt with.”
However, if the increase is legal, the Minister said that it will require a longer-term response which he suggests should take the form of extending the temporary rent freeze until he can draw up further measures to stabilise the rental market locally.
“It’s possible that lots of other people who haven’t been in touch with me may face extortionate rent increases whether it’s – even a 10% increase I’d still say it’s extortionate given cost of living – then I will want to take political action on that.
“But that will require other Ministers and other politicians agreeing with me on what action we could take, because when the law falls away, that’s it, it’s gone. So, we’d have to have something to replace it, if we wanted to deal with that."
When asked by Express about how he expects to understand the scope of the issue when he’s relying on individual reports, the Minister replied: “I would say that the theoretical is enough as far as I’m concerned. It is possible at the end of September that there will be people in Jersey who, having had a horrible time over the last few months, will be faced with the prospect of paying rental debt and paying a rent increase on top of that.
“And if that’s a few hundred people, maybe a few thousand people, that’s not good for our economy, it’s really, really bad to have those people suddenly see their spending power reduced in this way.”
This forms a major part of Reform Jersey’s ‘New Deal’ package of measures for economic recovery which suggests a number of rental interventions in order to support islanders in rented housing in the aftermath of the health crisis.
Prior to the covid outbreak and the resulting lockdown, the Housing Minister had expected to publish the findings of the Housing Policy Development Board in April. This has now been pushed back to September, but Senator Mézec did reveal to Express that it is due to recommend measures to stabilise the rental market.
Pictured: Reform Jersey have lodged their own suggestions for economic recovery.
The Senator said these could include “banning particular types of rent increases and giving tenants the right for longer tenancies and rights of renewal when tenancies expire at their current rent levels” as a means of holding back and spacing out rent increases.
“What I would suggest is that rather than letting the rent increase [ban] fall away at the end of September, then we propose rent stabilisation and then it takes me however many months to put the legislation together, let’s extend the rent freeze until rent stabilisation is ready and in force. So, rather than having a few months of chaos in between, let’s just extend it until we’re ready to step into rent stabilisation in the first place.”
Depending on the level of Government support and resource, Senator Mézec estimated he could put this legislation together within a year.
The Minister also indicated that the Policy Development Board has made a recommendation to create a Rent Tribunal “where people who thought the rules were being broken could have somewhere to go to get it challenged and enforced.”
When asked how he responds to criticism that his policies favour tenants’ rights over landlords, the Minister said: “Being a landlord is the same as any other business and it ought to be treated the same. If they want to make a living in that business, then good luck to them and I hope we will provide a good regulatory framework to give them certainty in how they can do it.
“But I don’t believe the job of the Housing Minister is to pander to business interests, it’s to, instead, secure people’s basic human right which is the right to access to decent housing. Good landlords have nothing to fear under these proposed regime changes, but I have encountered some bad landlords in my time and if I can get rid of them then I’ll consider it a job well done.”
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