Opposition leader Bernard Grech insisted on Wednesday that tenants and landlords should not be required to go to court for fair rent to be established under new legislation.

Grech was speaking in parliament, which is debating reforms to the law governing pre-1995 rents.

In terms of the law, landlords and tenants would go before the Rent Regulation Board which would establish a fair rent. The government would provide legal aid to the tenants and subsidise an increase in their rent up to €10,000 annually.

In his address, Grech said the situation of pre-1995 rents had become problematic because it was not adequately tackled by both Labour and PN governments.

It was wrong of the prime minister on Monday to have blamed the current situation on the pre-2013 PN government.

Actually it had been PN governments which in 1995 and 2009 tackled the issue as best as they could. It was the PN government which in 1995 drew the line between old and newer rental contracts. True, matters may have been handled better, but one needed to see the circumstances of the time.

What the present government was proposing was better than its inaction since 2013, but it was still not enough.

The biggest complaint about the new legislation, by landlords, was that they would still not be able to repossess their rented property. Not all landlords were well off, despite owing property, especially if they would have inherited property from which they had very little income.  

The government was arguing that the landlords would now receive more in rent, which was good, but the fact remained that they could not use their property as they wanted.

As for the tenants, Grech observed that the government was proposing that increases in rents as a result of this law would be borne by the administration. This was in line with any government’s social duty and something he agreed with.

But the PN disagreed that tenants, as well as landlords, had first to go to court where fair rent would be established. This did not provide peace of mind, especially to the tenants, many of whom are elderly.  

That the government would offer legal aid to the tenants was not good enough. 

The landlords and tenants should be able to appear before a department to decide the rent there through mediation. Court should only be a last resort.

He was sure that many would prefer this route.  

In his address Grech criticised the government for having failed to complete new social housing units since 2013, saying this had compounded current problems.

Because of its lack of planning the government was now ending up having to throw money at the problem.

The government, he said, could also have come up with schemes to encourage elderly tenants to move out of their current residences, freeing them for the landlords. That would have been far better than sending everyone to court.

The PN, if elected, would work on such schemes to give true peace of mind.

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