Before the arrival of Hurricane Ivan, both residential and commercial landlords in the Cayman Islands operated with few restrictions. It was widely accepted that the upper-hand in the landlord–tenant relationship was with the property’s owner and not its residents.
After the widescale destruction of 2004, however, when housing pressures allowed landlords to push up rents and evict their tenants mid-term, outcries led to a Law Reform Commission which recommended that more protection should be given to those renting residential property. Under the proposed changes, it would be unacceptable to discriminate against tenants with children, lease agreements would have to include formal terms and landlords would be forced to insure their tenanted properties.
Eight years on, in terms of the law, little has actually changed. The recommended reforms remain at draft stage, and although some Cayman Islands landlords may see this as good news, the issues that prompted the initial review of the law haven’t gone away. Landlords may bristle at the idea of enhanced tenants’ rights, extra costs and bureaucracy, but before they start to feel unfairly targeted, they should perhaps look at landlord’s legal responsibilities in other parts of the world.
In the UK, for example, there is an expanding rental sector, and tenants’ rights are a hot political topic. Numerous new regulations are being added to the statute books and landlords are, largely speaking, the parties shouldering the extra burden. Across the world, laws are being amended in response to societal changes, and of course, our society is changing too.
There are already calls for modernization of our landlord and tenant law, for both residential and commercial lettings, and the calls will only get louder. Our islands’ short-term residents are used to jurisdictions that offer better protection to tenants. Employers will want to ensure safe, suitable properties and stable tenure. Like it or not, landlords will find that the market demands will drive change. Even if nothing is passed into our own legislation, changes will happen.
Change is not necessarily a problem. Adopting a visibly responsible and formalised approach to letting may cost a few extra dollars, but should give a clear competitive advantage. The professional moving to the islands for work is more likely to be reassured by a contract accompanied by a handshake than by a handshake alone.
Nobody likes red tape, nobody wants the burden of extra admin, but it will come our way. The best defence we have against it, is to make sure it’s not required in the first place. If landlords act fairly, responsibly and sensibly now, we may avoid unnecessarily restrictive property laws in the future.