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Francis Flats case highlights ‘need to protect tenants’

Francis Flat 30-07-18 (Photo John Bugeja) interview with Abraham Seruya

The Chairman of the Francis Flats Tenants Association, Abraham Seruya, has underscored the need to protect long-standing tenants, mostly pensioners, from rent increases that they cannot keep up with.

This follows a recent Court of Appeal judgement which found that a 2013 amendment to housing legislation, affecting a small number of tenants in Matilde Francis Flats, was “unconstitutional”.

The decision has proved contentious and prompted a furious political row drawing stinging criticism from the Opposition over the Government’s handling of the matter.

The Government has defended its handling of a 2013 law that extended the rent control regime to a wider but limited number of tenancies in Matilde Francis Building, insisting that it acted to defend the interests of tenants in the face of landlords who were trying to increase rents by a factor of up to 400%.

No.6 Convent Place is finalising an appeal to the Privy Council of the appeal decision and said it had received support for this from “a large number” of tenants of the Matilde Francis Building.

For its part, the GSD had been highly critical of the Government’s handling of the matter and accused Chief Minister Fabian Picardo of misinforming Parliament when he presented the amendment in 2013.

Additionally, the party insisted that the control introduced had the effect of reducing rents that had been agreed “freely” between the benefiting tenants and the landlord.

“There had been no increase of rent from which the affected tenants were being protected,” it said in a statement.

Mr Seruya, who has resided in the Matilde Francis Building for almost 40 years, strongly rebuked this statement insisting that the rent was paid under protest.

He explained that the landlord’s agent had written to tenants with an “ultimatum” that they either pay the increased rents by a specific date and time or be served with a notice to quit their property.

“So he was ready to throw out the whole population of the building,” Mr Seruya said.

Additionally, when tenants paid the increased rent they handed the payment attached to a written declaration stating that they were only paying the increased payment “under the most severe protest” because their security and that of their family had been “threatened”.

This, he explains, was part of the evidence he presented in court.

Additionally, tenants began to fall into arrears because they could not keep up with the increased levels of rent, Mr Seruya said.

Mr Seruya’s son Aaron, a Committee member, dismissed suggestions that the Matilde Francis Building was the only property to benefit from the legislative changes.

“That’s not true,” he said.

“It’s more true to say that this is the building that is mostly affected in terms of rent reductions. Perhaps.”

He claims that there are around 200 properties that come within the ambit of the legislation.

“The only difference is that a lot of them are owner occupied,” he said.

Mr Seruya further hit back at suggestions made by the landlords that low rents would effectively prevent them from properly maintaining the building.

He insisted that in the nearly 40-years he has lived in the building, the interior well of the property has never been painted or retouched whilst the exterior facade has only been painted once.

Mr Aaron Seruya said: “We are obviously disappointed with the outcome [of the Court of Appeal case] but obviously we do have to respect the conclusions by the Court of Appeal.”

“We feel that government’s actions in taking the judgement to the Privy Council are the correct ones.”

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