In March, to help Islanders who had lost their jobs during the pandemic and were struggling with finances, legislation was passed banning any rent increases or tenant evictions during the crisis.
However, with that freeze due to expire at the end of September, Housing Minister Sam Mézec said he had been alarmed to discover a number of cases in which tenants said they had been told their rents would go up ‘considerably’ after that time.
He is now seeking an extension to the rent freeze, pending the introduction of further protection measures for tenants.
And, while he said most landlords had shown compassion during the crisis, he has now appealed to others to be reasonable given current economic circumstances and pressures on Islanders.
His comments come as government ministers continue to pursue the introduction of a new register for landlords. Landlords’ groups, however, have raised concerns about the potential costs of the new scheme and earlier this month Deputy Rowland Huelin, a committee member of the Jersey Landlords Association, lodged his own proposition calling for a feasibility study into a digital register to be carried out instead.
Senator Mézec said: ‘I have lost count of how many people have been in touch with me since the rent freeze came in, advising that their landlords were proposing to increase their rent. On many of these occasions I believe the issue was resolved simply by informing the tenant of their rights.
‘No prosecutions have taken place for the law being breached. But now I am starting to get reports of rent increases being planned for when the law expires, and some people are worried about how they will afford it, especially when some already have rental arrears to catch up on because of their lost income through the coronavirus crisis.
‘I am investigating the cases I am aware of to see if we have any powers to deal with this.
‘But, more broadly, I am calling for the current rent freeze to be extended, so that we avoid these situations at the end of September, and give us some more time to introduce proper rent regulations, such as rent stabilisation and the re-establishment of the rent tribunal, to protect tenants from being exploited in future. I will need support from other politicians to do this.’
He added: ‘Many renters have suffered during this crisis, and many may be pushed over the edge with a further rent increase later this year.
‘Most landlords will react sensibly and compassionately to their tenants’ needs (and there has been a lot of that during this crisis), but to a number who may be taking their tenant’s situation for granted, I ask them to think again and adopt a more reasonable approach to those who are struggling.’