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Lebanon News

Ten-day countdown to controversial rent law ruling

File - Landlords protest in support of the new rent law in Beirut, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Landlords and tenants are waiting with bated breath as the Constitutional Council takes the next 10 days to review a controversial new law that would abolish rent control.

Dozens of landlords gathered outside the Council Friday as lawyers representing tenants’ interests arrived to submit a fresh challenge to the law, which is set to go into effect in six months after being republished in the Official Gazette last month. Tensions ran high, with a scuffle breaking out between one of the lawyers and a landlord after the two exchanged verbal insults.

The law in its current form would raise rents over six years to 5 percent of the market value of the home, which would be determined by court-approved appraisers. After nine years, landlords would be free to evict longtime tenants, even if they are paying the adjusted rent. The law also calls for the establishment of a special fund to subsidize the rent of those who qualify as poor, although they, too, could be evicted after 12 years.

The law has proven deeply divisive, with some landlords claiming they do not make enough off rent to pay for building maintenance, let alone to live off of. On the other hand, tenants and activists say lifting rent control would result in the displacement of thousands of families, mostly in the Beirut area, rending the very social fabric of the capital.

Patrick Rizkallah, a member of the Landlords Committee, said Friday’s protest was against the lawmakers who signed the challenge.

“There are 16,000 buildings at risk of collapse and their signatures will force such a collapse,” he told reporters at the protest.

But tenants fear the new law will put them out on the street.

Retiree Ohanes Balangian has been renting his home in Rmeil, which he shares with his wife, for 50 years. The 75-year-old said fixed rent was particularly important in Lebanon, where the social safety net is almost nonexistent.

“[In other countries] they have rights, they have pensions, they have health coverage, while we have nothing,” he said, adding that the new law would affect many elderly people.

Balangian’s lack of faith in the state colors his view of the rent law as well. He added that he does not believe the special fund for the poor will materialize due to the government’s poor track record.

“Everyone knows the government’s coffers are empty; the teachers have been protesting for two years and they are still in the street,” the rentee said.

“They already passed a lease law and it was never implemented.”

Friday’s challenge was signed by 10 lawmakers and filed just hours before the noon deadline.

The MPs include Walid Sukkarieh, Nawaf Moussawi, Qassem Hashem, Hagop Pakradounian, Nadim Gemayel, Fadi Habr, Elie Marouni and Ziad Aswad, as well as an unnamed Hezbollah MP and one other lawmaker.

The Constitutional Council now has 10 days to review the constitutionality of the new law and deliver its ruling.

A similar objection was filed in May by former President Michel Sleiman and 10 MPs, some of whom have since withdrawn their support for the tenants’ challenge. MPs Dory Chamoun and Marwan Fares both declined to sign the second petition.

The Council ruled that the law was invalid due to its premature publication the first time, and Sleiman’s objection was never examined.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 12, 2014, on page 2.

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Summary

Landlords and tenants are waiting with bated breath as the Constitutional Council takes the next 10 days to review a controversial new law that would abolish rent control.

Dozens of landlords gathered outside the Council Friday as lawyers representing tenants' interests arrived to submit a fresh challenge to the law, which is set to go into effect in six months after being republished in the Official Gazette last month.

The law in its current form would raise rents over six years to 5 percent of the market value of the home, which would be determined by court-approved appraisers.

Tenants fear the new law will put them out on the street.

The Constitutional Council now has 10 days to review the constitutionality of the new law and deliver its ruling.


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