George: Don’t judge landlords
Tobago Chamber chairman Martin George says the Government cannot mandate that landlords be lenient to tenants who cannot pay their rent because of the covid19 stay-at-home restrictions.
During a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre last Saturday, the Prime Minister urged landlords to “have a heart” as the Government extended the stay-at-home order to at least May 10. Borders are also expected to remain closed until May 15.
In a WhatsApp voice note on Wednesday, George said the Government’s appeal to landlords is not a “legal imposition.
“It is not something that can be legally enforced. It is basically a request for landlords to have a heart in the circumstances.”
George added people must consider the fact that landlords also have their financial commitments.
“There are landlords who have their mortgages to pay, have their expenses to run their property. They have to do their maintenance on the property, so therefore you can’t expect in all circumstances that landlords could simply say there is no rent to be paid at all because of the current scenario.”
George, an attorney, said there are many delinquent tenants.
“You may also have some circumstances whereby some tenants may have been delinquent for several months, in some cases even years. And now they are using this present covid19 crisis to say they can’t pay rent.
“But when the landlord assesses the scenario, he may say this is someone who has not been paying rent all these years so I can’t accept that this has anything to do with covid19.”
George said in such circumstances, people must be careful not to rush to judgment.
On the issue of commercial leases, George said some tenants have described business managers as “harsh, oppressive and unfair.”
He said he knew of instances in which mall managers have arranged for tenants to pay half a month’s rent.
“And some of these tenants are still saying, ‘Why should I even be paying half a month’s rent even as the mall is closed and I can’t have any business and sales whatsoever.'”
George said commercial leases are driven by market forces “and if the landlord insists that they want their rent there is practically nothing the tenant can do in those commercial situations.”
He added: “Not even the Government can mandate what the situation with their landlord ought to be. So, we need to bear in mind these factors and understand that it is a balancing act.”
George said the Government’s appeal to landlords for leniency is based on humanity and compassion.
“It is not something that is legally enforcible when the Government asks a landlord to give tenants a break or some kind of relief or ease up on rent. It is not something a tenant can legally enforce in any court of law.
“It is really an appeal to the humanity. So, therefore, we need to try to approach it from that perspective.”
by: COREY CONNELLY