Based on the Housing Monitor report for the months of September, October and November 2021
During September, October and November, the Housing Monitor tracked 46 cases of housing precarity, affecting a total of 163 individuals.
The deteriorating economic situation has undoubtedly led to an increase in rental problems. Threats that previously affected individuals now target all residents of entire buildings. The transportation crisis and the subsequent strikes of public officials have also crippled some of the security and judicial channels that tenants could have turned to in order to stop landlords’ abusive practices and defend their housing rights.
In this report, the Monitor’s Legal Task Force presents some alternative methods it adopted to protect those under housing threats following the failure of traditional means.
1- Organizing meetings for the residents of the building – Solidarity in the face of threats at a building scale
Bourj Hammoud Building
Emile is a divorced man who has been living alone in a small one-room apartment on the third floor of a huge residential building in Bourj Hammoud for around 15 years. Due to the pandemic, his work has stopped, and he now lives off of the money his children send him from abroad.
His neighbor, Ramzi, an elderly man in his eighties, has lived in the room on the fifth floor for about 13 years. He was unable to pay his rent last year after he broke his back and subsequently stopped working. Every month, he pays a small amount of his accumulated rent using whatever money he has available.
About two and a half years ago, Assaad and his friend moved into the apartment on the fifth floor for a rent of approximately 500,000 LBP per month.
After the Port explosion, Assaad made an agreement with the landowner’s representative that he would tend to the cleaning of the building as well as all the maintenance of the apartments, shared spaces, and the roof, including painting, aluminum and sanitary works, and in return he would stay in his apartment rent-free.
When an NGO renovated the affected building, the representative began harassing the residents by raising the rent and threatening eviction.
After the representative evicted two residents, Emile, Rami and Assaad each called the Housing Monitor to report their case. The Monitor decided to organize a meeting between the residents of the building and a lawyer from the legal task force.
The attendees met at Ramzi’s apartment, where the lawyer reviewed each resident’s legal status, then reported the following:
- In Emile’s case, his contract expired last September. Since the owner continued to receive rent without giving him any warning or expressing any intention to take the apartment back, Emile’s contract is automatically renewed for an additional three years, which is the period specified in the contract, pursuant to Article 592 of the Law of Obligations and Contracts.
- As for Ramzi, after he paid the bulk of his debt, the representative stopped accepting payments and started threatening him, saying that a judge would come the next day to evict him by force.
- The lawyer’s advice to Ramzi was to save up the rent payments. In the event that the owner addresses him with an official warning to pay, then the lawyer would file an official “present and deposit” report with the due amount, and send a letter to the owner stating that Ramzi has not failed to pay, and that the due rent is with the notary public.
- Asaad’s case was the most difficult because he did not have a written lease, or any payment receipts proving the existence of a contractual relationship between him and the owner. Thus, the lawyer advised him to negotiate a new rent price with the owner, so that under this agreement a new lease would be established, valid for three years. He also stressed the necessity of stipulating that the new agreement be in writing, or that Asaad at least obtain signed receipts for every payment he makes.
It was agreed that a second meeting would be organized with the lawyer in the near term that would be attended by more of the building’s residents. In the meantime, Emile took it upon himself to follow up on the problems the residents are facing with the owner’s representative, and to inform us of new threats made to any of them.
On the day of the Port explosion, the Karantina building residents of more than 15 years found their homes in a wreck. The next day, after the army scanned the damages and promised compensation, the residents started restoring their homes at their own expense. On the third day, the landlord passed by the building to check the damages, and demanded rent increases.
The tenant on the ground floor, Walid, who was able to restore the apartment with the help of friends, refused the rent increase; an increase from 450,000 LBP to 600,000 LBP, and stopped paying rent completely. The owner took advantage of Walid’s situation to pressure him through sending legal notices and threatening eviction by calling the police. Eventually, Walid was forced to agree to signing a new contract priced in US dollars.
Reine, the first floor resident, agreed to a rent increase, but refused to pay more than 1,000,000 LBP (the owner was asking for 1,800,000). She was able to convince the other tenant to stand up to the pressures by the owner and refuse any rent increase exceeding 1,000,000 LBP.
The landlord responded to this by raising the rent to 3,000,000 LBP starting the following year, upon expiry of the contract.
Reine took the initiative to call the Housing Monitor on behalf of the building residents, and a meeting was organized with the Monitor’s lawyer.
The meeting was held at Reine’s apartment. It was attended by Reine and her husband, as well as the tenants in the third story apartments, Walid, Diana and Alaa.
Throughout the meeting, the following was discussed:
- The landlord deceived Diana and Alaa, and led them to sign a pledge to pay any increase he imposes, by forging the signatures of the other tenants. The lawyer clarified that this pledge cannot be enforced, especially as their contracts are close to expiry.
- The landlord does not solely own the building. Even though the contracts only mention his name, the tenants pay half of the rent amount to his brother’s inheritors abroad. Since the inheritors seem to be more compassionate with the tenants, the lawyer advised that when the current contracts expire, the tenants contact the inheritors to draft new contracts with them instead.
In addition, the legal notices sent by the owner to the tenants only hold his name instead of all the property owners, which renders them invalid.
- The owner has not duly registered the property with the municipality, which would cause him trouble should he resort to the judge to request eviction of the tenants, as that .
The lawyer has urged Walid to request a copy of his new contract with the owner, and to ask for receipts upon payment. He also emphasized to the tenants the importance of keeping all the repair bills so they can claim them from the owner in case he brought a lawsuit against them.
The tenants have assigned Reine as their delegate to contact the owners abroad.
Another method that the legal committee adopted for resolving disputes between owners and tenants, is involving a third party in the negotiations, someone who lives in the same neighborhood and is well known to its residents.
2- Third Person Mediation: Mobilizing Neighborhood Residents to Defend their Neighbours
Seeking the help of the neighborhood grocer
Hanaa is a divorced Syrian woman living with her five children in a small village in the Baalbek district. She is unemployed and used to rely on the United Nations’ aid (UNRWA and other organizations that deal with refugees) to pay her rent and secure her livelihood. Now that the UN has ceased the aid, and the owners have increased the rent amount more than once this year, Hanaa has been unable to pay her rent the past few months and has an accumulated debt. The owners have since started harassing her and pressuring her to pay her debt and leave the apartment.
The numerous attempts the Monitor made to negotiate with the owners over the phone have failed to stop the abuse Hanaa has been facing, making it necessary to have a face-to-face confrontation with the owners.
As the Monitor didn’t have any connections in Baalbek who could help Hanaa, we asked her to connect us with someone well known around the neighborhood, and who she trusts to help her. She gave us the number of the grocer she buys groceries from on a tab.
After the Monitor workers contacted the grocer and informed him of Hanaa’s situation, the grocer intervened to stop the owners from evicting her, and convinced them to give her a chance to pay her accumulated rent.
Bringing together Monitor callers from the same neighborhood
Maysaa has been living with her husband Mohammad and their three children in a store-turned-apartment in Karantina for around two years.
At the beginning of the year, the landlord raised the rent amount from 350,000 to 800,000 LBP, but Mohammad was able to negotiate and settle at 600,000.
Even then, as he is the sole provider for the family and he does not have fixed employment, Mohammad was unable to pay his rent regularly and ended up with an accumulated rent of five months.
At first, he and his wife Maysaa didn’t want the Monitor’s lawyer to contact the landlord because they were worried about the latter’s reaction. But now that the landlord’s representative has given them only two days to pay their debt or get evicted, the Monitor’s intervention became necessary.
The Monitor workers contacted Wissam, a previous caller supported by the Housing Monitor after the Port explosion. Wissam lives in the same neighborhood as Maysaa and her family. The Monitor asked Wissam about the owner and about any housing units nearby that the family could move into. They sought his advice on how the monitor can help the family. We discovered that Wissam is closely acquainted with the owner’s representative and was able to convince him to give the family more time to pay their debt. The representative in turn negotiated with the owner, who accepted under the condition that the family pays part of the debt immediately. Mohammad was able to procure an amount of 700,000 LBP through aid, which he paid to the representative, avoiding the risk of eviction.
Involving the mayor in the mediation process
Heba’s contract was due to expire at the end of November. She had requested that the owners give her an extra month to find another apartment to move into, even though the law requires the owner to give the tenant a period of two months to vacate. Although they accepted her request, the owners, who lived in the apartment above hers, harassed her throughout the whole month of November and tried several tactics to drive her out of the apartment. They started with using offensive language, and it got to a point where they were throwing dirty water at her whenever she went out to her balcony.
Heba then filed a complaint against the owners at the Saida police station, which forced them to sign a pledge to stop the harassment.
Yet, the harassment only increased and at some point they were threatening her with bringing armed men to evict her by force.
Following the advice of the Monitor’s lawyer, Heba went to the police station again to submit a request for further investigation, only to find that there were no employees at the station to file her request, as they were on strike.
Her last option was to resort to the mayor’s help and ask for him to intervene, especially after the owners confiscated her belongings inside the apartment and stopped her from entering it. The mayor, who turned out to be on friendly terms with the owners, reprimanded them for their behaviour, and forced them to apologize to Heba and let her return into her apartment.
3- Monitoring eviction cases: the importance of periodic follow-ups on cases to ensure the absence of risk
The Housing Monitor tracked 7 forced eviction cases during the months of September, October and November.
In September, Joe, a foreign worker living in Antelias, sent us a video of his landlord breaking into his house and threatening him and his wife, giving them until the end of that week to vacate the apartment.
Joe and his family had moved into their apartment in Antelias around one year ago, and have been consistently paying rent without delays. Due to a personal dispute between the tenants of the building, the owner decided -without inquiring about the dispute or trying to resolve it- to evict Joe and his family.
The Monitor’s lawyer directly intervened. He explained to Joe that the owner has no right to evict him without obtaining an eviction order from the court, and that he had the right to stay in the apartment for two more years as per his contract.
However, given what happened, Joe no longer wanted to stay, fearing for the safety of his wife and children. He asked for a month’s notice to find another apartment for his family.
The lawyer negotiated with the owner, who pledged to refrain from harassing Joe and his family and give them a month to find a new residence.
Yet, about a week after the lawyer’s intervention, Joe called us to report that the owner had evicted him from the building, with his personal belongings still locked in the apartment.
The Monitor lawyer met with Joe and offered to accompany him to the Antelias police station to file a complaint against the owner to force him to allow them into the apartment again. But Joe refused to involve the police and only asked if we could help him retrieve his belongings.
After long negotiations with the owner and his brother, the lawyer forced them to open the apartment. He then accompanied Joe into the building and supervised the evacuation process. Joe and his family are now temporarily living with one of his friends until he finds a new apartment.
Tamar is a previous Monitor caller who lived with her family in Bourj Hammoud. The Monitor had helped her in July of last year to confront the owner when he tried to evict her prior to her contract expiration without any legal grounds. This September, it was reported that Tamar had left her apartment after the owner threatened her again.
The same thing happened with Elham, who lived in an apartment in Bourj Hammoud under a verbal contract. When she refused to pay her rent in fresh dollars, the owner accused her of trespassing and occupying the apartment illegally. Despite the Monitor’s intervention, legal consultation, and repeated negotiations with the owner to ensure Elham’s safety, she eventually decided to move to another apartment in October due to the owner’s incessant harassment.
These instances indicate a flagrant violation to the rent law, and an absence of proper supervision that protects tenants, even if for a certain duration. This is because the rent fails to provide sustainability in housing and the necessary protection, beyond mandating a three-year rent term for the first contract.
For this reason, the Housing Monitor works on monitoring the reported cases, and performs routine follow-ups with the callers, even after necessary legal intervention has occurred, to ensure that the housing threats are not renewed, and to prevent new threats.