BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Constitutional Council rejected the new rent law, saying its publication represented a constitutional violation. The draft law was struck down by the majority of the council with nine votes to one, on the grounds that it was published in the Official Gazette before the end of the month period during which the president must officially sign it.
The council said that the publication of the law before the end of the allotted month appeared to be an attempt to pressure the president to sign it or to return it to Parliament.
The legal date for publishing the law was May 9, but it went to the printers on May 8 instead, one day before the end of the period.
The council did not look into a challenge filed against the law by former President Michel Sleiman before the end of his term and another one presented by a group of lawmakers.
The council’s decision was greeted by the head of the Landlord’s Association, George Rabahiya. “They have the right to do so,” Rabahiya told The Daily Star.
In his challenge, Sleiman recommended some amendments be made to the law. He said the law was unfair and socially unjust. The second appeal demanded the law be annulled in its entirety.
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 preinflation 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 thousand families, who pay rent across Lebanon under the old law.
“Who gave them the permission to publish it?” Rabahiya asked. “Where are the president’s legal advisers?” Expressing his disbelief and anger over the unpredicted move, Rabahiya wondered whether the “move was made on purpose.”
The rent law was passed by Parliament in April, stirring the anger of longtime tenants who took to streets to protest the move. Opposing demonstrations were organized by landlords, who argued that the new law would allow them to finally be paid a proper rent fee.
“But how do we eat [under the old law]? How do we have a decent living? We want to put food on the table” Rabahiya said. “This is chaos.”