During July and August, the Housing Monitor followed up on 40 cases of housing vulnerabilities, affecting a total of 188 individuals. This report aims to outline some of the legal strategies adopted by the Housing Monitor’s Legal Task Force to help callers overcome their housing-related difficulties.
Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis severely affected the already straining housing sector, exacerbating housing instability for renters in particular. Indeed, almost all recorded cases during July and August revolved around rental disputes, with over half the callers complaining of exorbitant rent increases;
Soumayya lives with her husband, their son, her brother and her brother-in-law in a small apartment in Bourj Hammoud, to which they moved last year. After an NGO renovated the unit, the landlord increased rent from 400,000 to 550,000 LL, later asking for 700,000LL to be increased to 800,000LL the following month. When the family objected, he asked them to leave. They do not have a written contract.
Within an eight months span, Arij’s rent increased from 500,000LL to 600,000LL, and later to 800,000LL. Her landlord also started charging her an extra 350,000LL for generator services.
One year into his lease, Oussama’s landlord gave him a choice between paying double the rent or vacating the apartment.
I. Disputes Over Rent Amount: How does the Housing Monitor protect tenants from being priced out of their homes?
Rents cannot be changed monthly, an agreement lasts 3 years:
Security of Tenure is a central component of the right to adequate housing. Human rights law mandates that all persons possess a degree of security of tenure, which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats. In Lebanese domestic Law, this period of protection is set at three years (article 543 of the Code of Obligations and Contracts). In fact, the law stipulates that any lease agreement formed for a duration that is less than three years, is automatically considered valid for three years.
Therefore, for the duration of this protection period, any increases in rent are considered unlawful, unless the tenant agrees to it. And on that note, the monitor advises its callers not to pay any more than the originally agreed upon amount. Since acceding to pay a raise in rent, even once, is legally interpreted as a tacit agreement to change the contract terms.
When the three year period mandated by Lebanese law for developed property passes, the landlord has the right to either terminate the contract, or renew it for another year. Should he, however, in the course of the renewal, change any of the original contract’s terms -such as increase the rent- he would be entering a new agreement, automatically renewable for another three years.
All the above apply for verbal contracts as well
Verbal lease contracts, or informal contracts, also benefit from the same garranties. Security of tenure for an oral contract is, however, a bit flimsy, since its terms, such as the agreed upon lease period and rent amount, are unwritten, and therefore difficult to prove.
A landlord acting in bad faith, could even deny the existence of the lease and accuse his tenants of squatting. Which is why it is important that tenants collect any document that could prove the legality of their residency and the details of their lease; such as asking the tenant for receipts when paying rent, keeping all kinds of services bills (electricity, water, maintenance…), packages and letters addressed to unit they’re renting, email and text-message exchanges between them and their landlord etc…
These documents could help tenants prove the legality of their residency before the courts, but also, in case of a dispute with the landlord over rent, they may use them to register their lease at a notary’s office, and deposit their monthly rent there (محضر عرض وإيداع ). Upon doing so, the landlord receives an official notice with the tenant’s name, address, and deposited payments, providing the ultimate proof of the lease’s existence, and rent payments made.
What we suggest, as a means to curb the notary’s expensive fees, is to collect several months’ rent and deposit them all at once. It would be safer to pay fully for the first deposited rent, and adopt this strategy for later deposits.
The Monitor has also started collaborating with notary offices, willing to provide their services for reduced fees.
Protection Period extended for buildings damaged by the port explosion
For the past eight years, Claire, and her co-workers have been renting an apartment in Dawra. When their landlord died following the Beirut blast, a lawyer was assigned to oversee rent collections, and started imposing some steep rent increases.
When she reached out to the monitor, Claire was informed that since her building was heavily damaged by the Beirut blast, she and her roommates benefited from Law 194/2020, which extended their lease for an additional year, making it unlawful to impose any rent increases during that period.
Moreover, since the landlord and his representatives had not made any repairs to the apartment, rendering parts of it unusable, Claire had the right to negotiate a further
reduction to her rent as per article 563 of the COC, which stipulates that if the rented property is partially damaged, making it unusable as intended by the lease agreement, the tenant has the right to reduce the rent fee accordingly.
II. Eviction Threats: Recognizing when the threat is legal and how to counter it
Other rental disputes recorded during the months of July and August, involved eviction threats issued by landlords wanting to vacate their rented properties. Reasons varied from wanting to lock it up to save up on repair and maintenance fees, or leave it vacant, in a limbo state to eventually sell it in a redevelopment project, or because they hope to replace their tenants with others from whom they can request higher rent. The latter was especially in the case of housing units renovated by NGOs after the Beirut port blast.
Tamam, and her 14 other family members, were asked to leave the apartment they leased in Bourj Hammoud, after a NGO fixed a leak that had long plagued the building. The landlord, who had already evicted another family staying in the same building, planned on selling the property, now that it no longer has a leak problem.
Sally faced a similar situation, when her landlord asked her and her family to vacate their home in Sibline for no apparent reason. She believes the landlord wants to lock up the house to avoid paying taxes and maintenance.
It’s important to stress that the landlord cannot evict tenants on a whim and without prior notice. In fact, International human rights law specifies that evictions should only be carried in exceptional circumstances, after giving adequate and reasonable notice, and following a list of protective procedures and processes.
Accordingly, the Lebanese legal framework on evictions clearly stipulates that evictions must be mandated by court, and landowners do not have the right to evict a tenant without a court order.
While this legal framework is protective of the rights of tenants, including in instance of verbal rental contracts, in practice, the majority of evictions are undertaken without the adequate legal protection or due process, and thus constitute forced evictions. Moreover, property owners tend to evict tenants without adequate notice, leaving them in a vulnerable position, and potentially at risk of homelessness.
This is largely due to the fact that most tenants, landlords and municipalities are unaware of the requirement that an eviction must be mandated by a court decision, since it is not a written rule, but one based on the legal principle that forbids taking the law into one’s own hands, that was established after Lebanese judges extensively ruled in that direction1Civil Judge of Beirut’s decision no. 501, issued on November 11th 2002
As such, it is the Housing Monitor’s job to inform callers of this rule;
A. Verbal Threats of Eviction :A verbal request to evict does not constitute legal grounds for eviction
Vera, a single mother residing in Dawra with her eight months old baby, was told to evict one year into her lease. Her landlord claimed he wanted to sell the place, but she believes he wants to replace her with someone willing to pay more.
The Monitor informed Vera that she wasn’t required to vacate unless the landlord obtained the court’s permission to evict her. As a matter of fact, should he try to evict her by force, he would be subject to penalties2Self- help evictions can be penalized under article 429 of the Penal Code, which establishes a penalty of 200,000LL for anyone who takes the law into their own hands, and article 430 which establishes a prison sentence reaching up to two years if the use of violence or moral coercion were involved..
Using this knowledge, Vera was able to confront her landlord, and re-negotiate her stay in the apartment.
B. Forced Evictions: Eviction using intimidation and violence is a criminal act
Landlords could also resort to unofficial eviction tactics in order to pressure tenants to leave. Many callers described being subjected to repeated verbal abuse, harassment and, in some cases, threatened to be forcibly removed from their homes by armed militia, or even some elements of the police forces.
Some landlords went as far as cutting water and electricity access from tenants’ homes or changing the locks while they’re out.
These tactics, which have always existed but increased as of late with the ongoing crisis, specifically target vulnerable categories such as migrant workers and refugees, who lack social support systems and cannot seek help from local authorities.
How does the Housing Monitor advise callers to deal with harassment and other illegal eviction tactics? File a complaint.
1- Resorting to the Penal law to counter illegal landlord behavior
Following a dispute with the occupants of his building, a landlord in Bourj Hammoud decided to forcibly kick everyone out of his property, and gave them a one week notice to vacate. Sara, one of the residents of said building, informed us that when the tenants refused to leave, the landlord cut off water access to their homes. She was 9 nine months pregnant at the time.
Sara was informed she had two legal options to restore water access to her home; she can either present a petition before the judge of summary proceedings, or file a complaint before the public prosecution department.
Since the court of Summary Proceedings had been experiencing delays as of late, the Monitor recommended Sara to take the penal proceedings path and file a complaint before the public prosecution.
Nissrine from Bourj Hammoud, faced a different kind of pressure in the form of her landlord.
When an NGO offered to renovate her apartment, damaged by the Beirut port blast, the landlord started increasing her rent. She initially agreed to a 150,000LL increase on her usual rent, but the following month, the landlord raised it again to 1,200,00LL, almost double the amount of what she originally paid.
When Nissrine told him she cannot afford it, the landlord started inviting people, prospective tenants, into her home.
With this behavior, the landlord not only violated Nissrine’s privacy, he also violated the constitution, which stated that ”The citizen’s place of residence is inviolable. No one may enter it except in the circumstances and manners prescribed by Law.3Article 14 of the Lebanese Constitution”. And the law in this case placed an obligation on landlords to guarantee the tenants’ legal enjoyment of the rented estate from any action (be it their actions, or that of a third person’s) that might prevent them from doing so4Articles 553 through 558 of the COC.
Accordingly, Nissrine was advised to file a complaint against her landlord for trespassing before the Public Prosecution.
2- When filing a complaint isn’t an option: Resorting to mediation and creating social support systems to counter abusive landlord behavior
Seeking protection through the Lebanese judicial system isn’t an option for everyone. Individuals from vulnerable social groups, mainly refugees and migrant workers, who might not possess legal residency,do not have recourse to court to address grievances, fearing it might subject them to arrest and detention.
As a result, there is a general hesitation among those social groups to report harassment and other violations to authorities, preferring to rely on social networks when available, or simply leaving and looking for new accommodation.
There are other cases where the landowner being someone well connected, would discourage tenants from taking the judicial recourse, as they believe that he (the landlord) could probably make use of his connections to get a favorable court decision.
The Housing Monitor tries to provide tenants, in such cases, with the necessary moral support, so they don’t feel helpless, and pressured to yield to their landlord’s demands, through the means of mediation, and organizing building scale and neighbourhood scale meetings.
When a caller reaches a dead-end with his landlord, and self-negotiations are no longer effective, the Monitor offers to step in and mediate on their behalf.
Depending on the urgency of the case, mediation can either be performed by a social worker, or a lawyer.
Mahmoud had been renting his apartment in Karantina for about a year and a half when the landowner decided to increase his rent from 800,000LL to 1,500,000LL, and started harassing him for the money on a daily basis.
Mahmoud tried negotiating with his landlady, offering him to pay an extra 100,000LL to his monthly rent but the latter refused. He even asked some of his neighbors to try and reason with her, but they failed to do so.
Having a verbal contract, and little documents to prove his claims, Mahmoud felt that he couldn’t resort to a notary’s office, or file a complaint against her before a judge.
Mahmoud asked if the Monitor could intervene on his behalf, and a social worker was assigned to mediate. The social worker tried appealing to the landlady’s humanitarian side before explaining to her the illegality of her actions and Mahmoud’s rights.
After that call with the social worker, the landlady stopped bothering Mahmoud.
Iman, living in Bourj Hammoud with a large family of 8 and a baby on the way, was facing pressures to evict by an abusive landlord, who started accusing them of squatting and threatening to cut off water and electricity when they refused his demand to start paying rent in fresh dollars.
Iman was informed of the legal actions available to her, but since she had no legal residency, she wished to avoid going to court, for fear of being detained or deported.
At that point, one of the Monitor’s lawyers was assigned to talk with the landlord.
Organizing building scale and neighborhood scale meetings
When several occupants of the same building are being targeted by their landlord, or several residents of the same neighborhood are facing a similar threat, the Housing Monitor tries grouping these individuals by organizing meetings on a building/neighborhood scale.
Through these meetings, the Monitor aims to encourage tenants to get organized, and mobilize around shared grievances, while acting as each others’ social support system.
After an NGO renovated a large apartment complex in Bourj Hammoud, damaged by the Beirut blast, the complex manager started harassing the tenants to pay more rent, and managed to drive away two tenants with his behavior.
Elie, Sami and Asadour, residents of said complex, each decided to call the Monitor to ask for advice.
Upon realizing they were all neighbors, the Monitor decided that the best course of action would be to treat the case on a building scale, and arranged for a meeting between a lawyer and all the building’s residents.
C. Eviction through a A formal eviction notice still isn’t enough to carry out an eviction
Other eviction threats come in the form of a formal notice, written by the landlord’s lawyer, or officiated by a notary, and delivered to tenants by a court officer, or a member of the Lebanese General security.
Anisa and her neighbours in Jal el Dib were presented with such a notice, asking them to vacate the building before their lease’s term.
They were informed by the Monitor that this notice is not sufficient on its own to evict them, as it is only the first step of several legal procedures that the landlord has to take in order to obtain a court-mandated eviction order.
As such, the Monitor’s lawyers helped the tenants write a formal rebuttal letter informing the owner that 1) he cannot evict them before the lease’s term,
2) that in fact, the tenants are entitled to extend their lease for two more years as per Article 543 of the COC, and
3) that he needs to present his case to a civil judge, and obtain a court decision if he wishes to evict them.
D. Evictions through court orders and how to delay their execution
Unfortunately, there aren’t many legal options to counter a court-mandated eviction order.
And while international human rights law specifies that States should adopt legislation to ensure that, prior to carrying out any evictions, all feasible alternatives are explored in consultation with the affected persons5CESCR’s General Comment no.7 on Forced Evictions, the Lebanese legal framework on evictions doesn’t include such a provision.
As such, it isn’t an exaggeration to state that, with the absence of state-funded social housing and social security programs that tend to the needs of vulnerable social groups, homelessness is a reality for most individuals who are handed an eviction order.
By the time Abboud’s case had reached the Housing Monitor, an irreversible eviction order was already issued against him.
Abboud was an elderly man in his seventies, with dilapidated resources, and a small bedroom on the ground floor of a five story building in Geitaoui for a home.
Even though he had informed the court officers delivering him a copy of the eviction order that he had no other place to go, this didn’t prevent them from showing up on his doorstep two months later to implement said order.
The Housing Monitor’s lawyer at the time had to threaten the court officers with calling the media to record how they were throwing out an old defenseless man on the streets, in order to get them to desist, and agree to a month extension on carrying out the eviction order.
Over the following months, the Monitor’s lawyer would help Abboud file for two more one-month-extensions on his eviction order, until eventually, through community networking and the help of a few NGOs, Abboud was able to find a new home, and procure several months’ rent money.
III. Defaulting on Rent payments: due process and possible solutions
Defaulting on rent payments is no ground for immediate eviction
While failure to pay rent represents a legitimate justification for eviction, it doesn’t exempt the landlord from his obligation to follow due process and procedures, and obtain an eviction order legitimately.
In fact, before he is able to file a claim against his defaulting tenant, the landlord must first present him with a formal notice, prompting him to repay all his debt within a two months period.
Failure to do so, could be legally interpreted as the landlord acquiescing to the tenant remaining on his property without paying.
Renegotiating payment plans
And while the Monitor advises callers to remain in their homes until the landlord presents them with such a notice, on occasion, the Monitor also intervenes to try and negotiate a new payment plan that would suit both landlord and tenant.
This was the case of Imane from Bourj Hammoud, who had accumulated over a year and half worth of arrears, due to the fact that she had no steady income, and needed to provide for her 13 kids.
When her landlord demanded she pay all her rent by next month, or she’ll have her forcibly removed, a lawyer was assigned to the case to act as mediator.
Imane was asked to procure a small sum of money they can offer the landlord as a sign of goodwill, in order to facilitate negotiation efforts. And the lawyer managed to convince the landlord to let Imane stay.
Housing Monitor (HM) is a community housing tool developed by Public Works Studio to protect and advance housing rights in Lebanon. The tool is used by residents from various marginalized social groups to report on housing vulnerabilities and eviction threats. In response, Public Works Studio provides individualized legal and social support, mobilizes tenants around shared grievances, and identifies any trends in housing injustices, to then advocate reform.
To report cases of housing vulnerabilities and eviction threats, contact us at +961 81 017 023 or on firstname.lastname@example.org
- 1Civil Judge of Beirut’s decision no. 501, issued on November 11th 2002
- 2Self- help evictions can be penalized under article 429 of the Penal Code, which establishes a penalty of 200,000LL for anyone who takes the law into their own hands, and article 430 which establishes a prison sentence reaching up to two years if the use of violence or moral coercion were involved.
- 3Article 14 of the Lebanese Constitution
- 4Articles 553 through 558 of the COC
- 5CESCR’s General Comment no.7 on Forced Evictions