BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Constitutional Council rejected several articles in the controversial new rent law, a judicial source said Thursday, further drawing out the prolonged battle over the issue.
The council’s action means that the law, which was republished in June in the Official Gazette after a previous rejection by the council, can’t go into effect in four months as scheduled, the source told The Daily Star. He added that the law was sent back to Parliament.
The head of the lawyer committee challenging the rent law, Adib Zakhour, said that the law would not go in to effect until it was reviewed by Parliament.
“The law is being returned because it didn’t receive the approval of the Cabinet and because the Constitutional Council revoked three articles in the law,” Zakhour told The Daily Star.
Zakhour clarified that the Constitutional Council had accepted the “form” of the law at the time of its publication in the Official Gazette, adding that the revocations were concerned with the contents of the controversial bill.
The lawyer said that the three revoked articles probably deal with rent compensation, the aid fund benefitting tenants whose income is less than three times the minimum wage and the article designating a special committee to resolve disputes between the tenants and the landlords. “Parliament will submit revisions to the law and will redraft it in a way that doesn’t enforce the removal of people from their homes,” he concluded.
However, the head of the Association of Landlords, Joseph Zoghaib, said that the law would still go into effect by virtue of its publication in the Official Gazette.
He did add, however, that the Constitutional Council revoked the special committee, so that any dispute would be referred to the relevant judicial authority rather than a specialized council designated with that task.
The law has been at the center of controversy since it was proposed by the Cabinet two years ago.
More than 200,000 apartments, mostly in Beirut, are estimated to be rented under the old law, which governs lease contracts enacted before 1993. Inhabitants pay minimal rent fees that often amount to less than LL1,000,000 a year – a remnant of the country’s pre-inflation days just after the Civil War.
Under the new law, rents would increase incrementally until they reach 5 percent of the current market value of the apartment.
Most longtime tenants have expressed their willingness to pay the increase in rent, but they opposed the article of the new law that gives landlords the right to take back the property after nine years without paying tenants compensation.
Many longtime tenants are over the age of retirement. This makes it impossible for them to get a bank loan to buy or rent a new apartment in a country that has been witnessing a real estate boom over the past years. Tenants said the law would displace 180,000 families, who pay rent across Lebanon under the old law.
Parliament passed the law in spring. It was published in the Official Gazette a day early, which led to the Constitutional Court rejecting it. Then-President Michel Sleiman had challenged the law and asked the court to review its constitutionality, but the panel rejected both the law and the challenge because of the premature publishing of the law.
However, the law was republished in the Official Gazette in June, which meant that it was set to go in to effect six months after the date of its publication.