Monday, May 07, 2012

Landlord vs. Tenant

Special report on rent in Lebanon for Executive magazine
A tongue-in-cheek guide to holding on to your property or ditch dodgy renters

Say you’re one of those unlucky landlords whose tenants have an “old rent” contract, meaning they inked their deal before existing laws were passed in 1992. Annual rent can be as low as $100, or if you were slightly luckier, around $250 — the cost of a decent bottle of champagne. So while such low rents can keep your tenants sipping bubbly, paying for nice trips abroad or having the disposable income to buy their kids a BMW, you are left scraping the bottom of the barrel. So, as a landlord, what do you do if one day you see your tenant’s 18-year old son drive by you in a convertible with a bottle of Moet on the way to the airport, and you've had enough?

You can: 

1. Prove (or frame) the tenant has reneged on the contract by removing windows, doors or making major renovations without your expressed approval.

2. Get your video camera out and fix it to their door to prove that no one has been in the house for a whole year. You may need to buy some extra film.

3. When your tenant comes around to pay his measly fee, don't give them a receipt and claim they have not paid rent for 6 consecutive months.

4. Keep coming around to the house and telling the tenant there are cracks in the outside walls and you hear the building groaning, hoping they will up and leave.

5. If you have the financial wherewithal or a real estate developer that will ‘loan you the money’ to buy your property, you may find yourself buying your apartment again by forking out 25 to 50 percent of the total value of the property (not the land), generally settled out of court. Of course, a little sweetener to the ‘registered experts’ can make that financial medicine go down a little easier.

6. If your tenant is in the business of anything other than ‘residential activity’ you can claim the red lighting is proof of business activity and claim the residential contract has been breached.

Now, if you are that tenant indulging in the bubbly and luxury cars, and want to stay put, consider the following:

1. Remember “the tenant is the owner” and you are in the right. So whatever that whiney landowner says is of no consequence as long as you follow your original contract to the ‘T’ for tenant.

2. If he takes out a legal case against you, stall. Tell the judge you have no money for a lawyer so the courts can take another half-year to appoint one.

3. If your landlord is trying to buy you out and appoints an ‘expert’ to appraise your apartment all of a sudden, somehow, no one is ever home during his working hours. Beware however, if you are caught unaware opening the door adorned in a towel (or a more risqué form of dress) it is a crime not to let the expert in, even if he does look like a peeping Tom.

4. After you have succeeded in stalling for three to five years you can then go to the First Court of Appeals whereby you will pull at the judge’s heartstrings (and perhaps his ‘public’ purse) with stories of your kids first footsteps in the corner of your lounge and where your dying mother expressed her final wishes that you stay in the neighborhood to water her favorite plant that has grown up the side of the walls.

5. Never park your new Hummer in front of the house, even if it’s late at night and you’ve hit the bubbly particularly hard. Compensation for getting you out will vary according to your financial standing. If you are ‘poor’ you can get the higher amount of 50 percent of the value of your rental. The old Renault 12 will do well at the courthouse, especially pushed the final 100 meters by your wheezing grandfather.

6. If all fails don't panic, the snails pace of the Lebanese judiciary kept one case going for 47 years.

Landlords get the keys back

The 1992 Rent Act put the landlord back in the driver’s seat of many of those luxury SUVs seen around town. For starters, any rental contract that expired between January 1, 1987 and December 31, 1991 is subject to a series of multiples, while anything after that date, the tenant is no longer the “owner”. Contracts usually last for three years, after which the landlord has free reign to up your rent or turf you out. So what do you do if your part of this class of renters and like your five-meter ceilings?

1. You are basically out of luck. But if you know a notary, the judge and a few bad boys you may be able to stay for a year or two.

2. If your three-year contract is up, you will have to go to court. See above stalling methods for reference but keep in mind that you will need to butter up the right people and if you lose the case, you might end up paying for that slimy landlord’s lawyer. In the meantime, do not pay rent and save up for that penthouse on the Corniche, the eventuality of a basement abode, or maybe a tent in the park.

3. Make sure that you agree on things that cannot be delivered by your landlord: cue contractual obligation for helipad written in small letters your landlord couldn't see with his bifocals. If you can prove that the landlord did not deliver on the contract, you can stay, rent free.

Underhanded tenant turfing

If your tenant is proving difficult, the legal route is not always the quickest road to liberate your property of that noisy ragtag occupant.

You might consider:
1. That there are many plugs, many wires and many pipes that no one really keeps tabs on. They can come undone, burst or just disappear at anytime. Just saying.

2. If your unruly inhabitant has any acute fears, say arachnophobia, then a trip to the pet store for a few rather hairy tarantulas will do well crawling over the balcony. Rabid canines have also been known to raise a few hairs and eyelids, especially if they can bark into the night or enjoy romantic moments with the tenant’s ankles.

3. By this time you will have noticed the affinity the resident of your own property has with his auto. Small notes written with newspaper clippings attached to destroyed windshields have been known to prove useful, as does spray-painting the car a lurid color. Just be sure to stock up on the turpentine to clean away the evidence from your fingernails.

No need for contracts

More often than not a gentlemen’s agreement is the best way to do a deal. Such is the case with rents too. If no contract between the tenant and the owner exists, it is the person living in the house who has the upper hand. So if you are looking to sell off that old part of your family heritage and think you pulled a fast one by not inking a contract or paying municipality fees: think again.

1. In order to tear down any building, permits from the municipality are required. But if someone is living in your house and paying the bills, the receipts are proof of tenancy and the fact that you don't have a contractual right to boot out anyone since, simply there is no contract. Tenants without contracts should note that buddying up to the electricity guy with the green slips can mean the difference between a bed and the street.

2. If your tenant has not been paying rent and knows they are on the better side of the law, the best course of action for a landlord, when there is no ink on paper, is simply to come around during working hours when no one is around and change the locks on the door. When the renter comes out of the building confused and looking for a crowbar you can remind them that you hold the key to their furniture, not to mention to the flat screen TV as well.
Things of course are rarely this vindictive or unruly. Most contracts are clear and the tenant/landlord relationship can be managed with a little cunning and a lot of reason when it comes to upping the rent every few years. Even if a new rental law comes into play, the basic legal procedures will hardly change. Thus, it may be preferable to leave the antics to these pages and proceed to the next page to find out what is being cooked up for the country’s rental market.

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