PHILIPSBURG - The Bureau of the Ombudsman continues to receive visits from citizens concerned about their housing conditions, as well as complaints about the Rent Committee allegedly not cooperating or responding adequately when addressed by the public.
Considering the importance of the Rent Committee, post- hurricane Irma to settle disputes regarding rental price and evictions, and to ensure that both tenants and landlords are able to address the Court regarding such disputes, the Ombudsman Dr. Nilda Arduin initiates a Systemic Investigation pertaining to the operations of the Rent Committee.
After more than four months since the passing of the devastating hurricanes, the Ombudsman has not been provided requested information from Government about persons who lost their homes, are residing in emergency shelters and/or have filed for social assistance.
Preliminary investigation of the complaints about the Rent Committee (also known as Rent Tribunal or Rent Board) by the Ombudsman indicates an increase of visitors to the Rent Committee post-hurricane Irma. However, the office of the Rent Tribunal is understaffed and -equipped to handle the increase of visitors, while allegedly a formal request submitted to the Minister of General Affairs in the first quarter of 2017 to improve its business operations and functioning has remained unanswered.
The public has difficulty reaching the Rent Committee, experience a lack of guidance when visiting the office, and letters are being refused when presented. Not being able to have their case heard by the Rent Tribunal jeopardizes both tenant and landlord to have a dispute regarding a request to vacate the premises, or a rent increase settled. In the meantime uncertainty and a lack of transparency regarding short-term housing continues unabated.
The principle of Fair play requires that a public body allows citizens the opportunity to express and defend their views and opinions, while also being able to object the position and or point of view of a public body. A public body is required to actively assist the citizen in utilizing its procedural options. In the case of rent disputes, appealing to the Court of First Instance is an option after a decision by the Rent Tribunal is made on the matter.
Proper identification of complaints to adequately inform citizens of their rights, procedures to be followed, protest or appeal is pivotal. Hence the Executive Secretary of the Rent Tribunal is charged with the task to allow persons to adjust their written request if not adequate, and assist them in the process.
Dr. Arduin observes that with poor infrastructure and no vehicle available to engage site visits in order to objectively and effectively execute its task, the standard of proper conduct Fair play, among others, is seriously under threat with regard to proper handling of requests filed with the Rent Committee post-hurricane Irma.
Reason why the Ombudsman resolves to conduct a systemic investigation regarding: 1) The yearly budget of the Rent Committee in order to execute its task adequately pursuant to article 273 National Ordinance Rent. 2) The daily operations, including accessibility of the Rent Committee to the public. 3) Application of the law by the Rent Committee, in particular pertaining to assisting the public to properly file their request with the Rent Committee (article 257 sub 2 of the National Ordinance Rent). 4) Impediments of the Rent Committee resulting in excessive Complaints being filed with the Ombudsman regarding the Rent Tribunal.