QUESTION: Dear Legal Wiz,
I have been living at my home in Jamaica for about 9 years. The original owner passed away, and a few months after I moved into the home. The house has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, separate living and dining room, a washroom and verandah.
A gentleman claiming to be the owner’s cousin has, since she [the original owner] passed away, been collecting the rent on the property. However, he has failed to make any repairs or do maintenance to the property. I have had to repair the roof, do major interior work including bathroom and kitchen fixtures, replacing plugs and sockets and rewiring, installing cupboards and shelves, painting (interior and exterior), putting up a fence and gate and having the yard cut. Just to name a few things.
I do these things for my own comfort, and, also because the rent is low. I have kept all my receipts for work done to the property. The landlord has no interest in repaying me for this work, claiming that this is the reason he hasn’t raised the rent over the years. I recently found out the he is not related to the previous owner and has no ties to the property, except that his mother, who is now deceased was a caregiver for the previous owner.
I would like to know if I have any rights on which to sue the landlord? Also if he is not the legal owner of the property can I still sue the landlord for the repairs I have made? I also would like to know if there are any laws that would also me to try to claim ownership of the property if no relatives make claim?
RESPONSE Dear Deloris,
There are a number of issues, even on the assumption that you are a legal tenant. Some will not be addressed as information is insufficient – such as the condition of the house when you first moved in, the agreement you made with the original owner before she died, and the agreement you made with this person you have accepted as the landlord. In the first instance, you said you moved in after the original owner died so the terms of your tenancy agreement that you are abiding by and with whom it was made whether orally or in writing, need to be properly understood.
Selected issues will be addressed generally. After that you can secure consultation and further assistance from within our network for nominal fees, or, from legal aid clinics across the country, or, from a private attorney.
Your main issue seems to be on whether or not you can recover sums spent on repairs and for rent from the person you accepted as the landlord, and your rights to seek legal ownership of the property. It seems you agreed with the said ‘landlord’ to maintain and carry out repairs in exchange for lowered rent and hence your claim.
Where the ‘landlord’ is concerned, although he is not the owner, he may still have rights to his claim as your landlord. For example he could have obtained power-of-attorney from relatives or indirectly from the owner before she died, or by a will for example. Unless you can prove he has no rights and that you will pay the ‘rightful’ landlord you may want to consider stop paying this person sums, and to place said rent sums, which are due as long as you live on the property, into an escrow account until the issues about ownership and rightful claims as landlord can be resolved.
Where the repairs are concerned, your issue is that you went beyond ‘average repair.’ According to the Rent Restriction Act it is the tenant accept responsibility to maintain the property in good condition and for any damages by him/her or anyone on his/her behalf. The landlord accepts responsibility to landlord to carry out repairs, and a percentage of the rent sums is applied for this. Permission for repairs is to be done in writing, but there are instances where tenants are allowed refunds where prior notice was given, and the repairs were of dire necessity. In your case the rent is low and you agreed to carry out repairs. Albeit the condition of the house at the time of contract and the agreement itself is unknown except that you agreed to do repairs. Based on the limited information submitted on this you would have to prove you carried out repairs beyond what was reasonably expected, but necessary.
Where your interest in the property lies, a number of influences to your claim to apply for possession will need to be taken into consideration such as length of time you lived on property and tenancy agreement, whether or not a title exists, existing relatives of the owner with an interest, actual connection of the existing ‘landlord’ to property. You need to start with checks at the titles office.
Whether the relatives make claim or not, there are certain procedures that must be followed, for example which will call for them to be notified.
You need to consider paying fees for one-on-one consultation with a n attorney especially as other issues may arise such as if the landlord decides to serve you notice to quit premises.
Your Legal Wiz in Jamaica