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Do it within ambit of supreme law

Geraldine Panapasa
Saturday, February 24, 2018

IF a person is engaging in a residential rental business then their interest should be the rental money they receive from their tenants and any discriminatory practice on the part of the landlord is contrary to the Constitution, says Consumer Council of Fiji officer in charge Bindula Devi.

Ms Devi was responding to queries that some landlords on social media were looking for tenants of certain ethnicity as well as placing restrictions such as not allowing tenants to bring beef on to the premises.

She said there was a Residential Tenancy Bill in its draft stages, which also had recommendations to establish an enforcement body that could look into issues faced by landlords and tenants.

"The act of advertising rental properties based on race or ethnicity is contrary to Section 26 of the Fiji Constitution," Ms Devi said.

"Section 26(3) (a) of the Constitution stipulates that unfairly discriminating a person on the grounds of his or her race, colour, culture or ethnicity is a punishable offence.

"The council over the past years has been lobbying for improvements in the area of landlord and tenancy. As an advocacy organisation, we have made suggestions for the establishment of an enforcement body that can specifically look into issues faced in the area of landlord and tenancy."

Ms Devi said, consumers must ensure that there was a written tenancy agreement setting out specific terms and conditions of the tenancy, which must be signed by both parties.

She said a copy of the agreement should be retained by the tenants at all times.

"It is also important to note that the terms stipulated in the agreement do not impinge on the right to quiet enjoyment of the premises by tenants," she said.

Since 2013, the council has received 1069 complaints regarding landlord and tenancy with a monetary value of $265,085.18.

Ms Devi said, common issues include failure to refund bond money, non-issuance of receipts by landlords and non-compliance with the 30-day written eviction notice period.

"The council was further made aware of some landlords increasing the rent despite the residential Rent Freeze Order in place and the poor state of the rental premises," she said.

"The council, through mediation with both parties, managed to assist the tenants where congenial resolutions were attained."

When asked whether the council had taken landlords to task for discriminatory practices, the council said they let the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission decide on this.

"The Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) also looks after complaints of such nature," the council said.

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