Philipsburg; In reference to complaints that have reached her office, Ombudsman Gwendolien Mossel, has expressed concerns about possible evictions during and post the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic that the country is currently facing. In light of the present closure of the Rent Committee and the limited operations at the Court House, the Ombudsman wants to remind 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 ANG. 200.000,00 or a court verdict (article 7:240 of the Civil Code). Additionally, in the event of the disputed termination of a rental lease agreement, and thus eviction by the landlord, this can only take place with permission from the Rental 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. According to the 2019 Labor Force Survey, carried out by the Department of Statistics, 61% of all housing units on Sint Maarten are rental units.
In connection herewith, the Ombudsman reemphasizes 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 (article 7:246).
In the case of an unlawful eviction tenants are urged to contact the police (KPSM).
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 regretfully, 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 the aforementioned 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 it’s task while the country faces another major crisis.
The Ombudsman commends the Prime Minister and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on the efforts to keep us safe, and urges the population of Sint Maarten to follow the directives of government during this world wide 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.
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