The reality of Urban Regeneration and the Housing Act

Dear Sir,

In these days when electioneering and the promises of goodies in return for votes is rife, and the hype surrounding the forthcoming elections is in everybody’s mind, all the parties concerned seem to purposely avoid the problem that one important sector of our community is suffering and has suffered in silence for decades. In fact, it is the only sector of our community which has been targeted, victimised and abused by successive Governments for over 50 years. This sector is the owners of pre-war buildings throughout Gibraltar, especially the town area including the Upper Town, the only sector of our community where the Government of the day dictate the rent that owners can charge for what is one’s own property. 

I have to state that Gibraltar is the only place in the western world where this continues to happen. We have no right to enjoy our properties whether it may be for a decent rent or to sell for financial reward. All this is contrary to recent rulings by the European Courts of Human Rights and is both morally wrong and unconstitutional, yet it seems to be ignored. Where is fair competition, equal treatment and the rights to one’s property in this archaic state of affairs? We are the only sector of the community which is openly discriminated against by Government, regardless of who is in power. All parties are scared of losing votes if they change the law, as a large number of people could be affected, instead we are used as cannon fodder by every successive Government who show little regard for our situation.

The Housing Act previously known as the Landlords and Tenants Act, is a piece of legislation that allows tenants, Governments and Government agencies to control and dictate what rightful owners can do with our properties. We are forced by the Housing Tribunal to set rents as low as £30 a month for properties which would easily rent for over £400 a month or sell for over £150,000, yet we are controlled. This is such a discriminatory law that it is mind boggling that no Government has had the courage to put it right.

Can you imagine if the Government of the day were to pass a law which stated that property owners in Watergardens can sell at open market value, but those in Ocean Village cannot sell for more than £50,000?

Or that owners in Watergardens can rent for as much as they like but those in Ocean Village will rent at no more than £100 per month? Can anyone imagine the uproar that this would cause? Well that is exactly what Governments past and present have been subjecting us to for over 50 years.

To top it all up, we also have to endure the wrath and interference of the Environmental Health Agency, whereby by adhering to the Health Act, which I believe hasn’t been updated since 1950, serves us with Abatement Notices so that we maintain our properties to a certain standard. How can we upkeep our properties when we are forced to accept rents of £30 per month? How can we upkeep our properties if our tenants don’t spend a penny in maintaining our properties but instead choose to send all their money overseas properties and allow our properties to fall into a state of total disrepair, which then costs thousands of pounds to fix.

A lot of our properties internally have not seen a lick of paint in over twenty years; are we expected to take care of this as well ?This is not only unconstitutional in my view, but it goes against the directives set by the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Charter on the Right to Property.

We do very well when we claim the right to self-determination and send our political representatives to the UN every year to claim the right to our homeland. What would happen if we as landlords were to go to these institutions and ask for exactly the same conditions and rights for our properties as we do for our homeland?

The system is systematically abused in such a way that we are deprived of any rights to our property. I can give more than one hundred cases of this, but will highlight just one vivid example to show the level of abuse.

I own a property where a family had been living for over ten years. This family were allocated a Government house over two years ago. When I asked for the keys to my property back, the head of the family refused to do so. He had given the keys to his niece who had come from Morocco and wanted to take up residency in Gibraltar. I informed him that he could not do that but to no avail. Under the Housing Act, I need to get an eviction order to get my keys back. I had to engage the services of a lawyer and after a year of going backwards and forwards, he agreed to hand the keys back in return for a payment of £2,000 on condition that I did not charge or sue him rent for the year that he has been living in a council house which Government allocated him and his family in Laguna Estate.

This has cost me £3,000 in legal fees, £2,000 in payment to him and £1,500 in lost rent, a total of £6,500.

How can Government turn a blind eye to this abuse? This is just one example but the list goes on forever.

How can anyone expect landlords to upkeep properties when there is no financial benefit whatsoever? This has resulted in the town area falling into disrepair beyond belief. We as Landlords prefer to keep our properties empty rather than rent them out. There are hundreds of empty properties in the town area going to waste, but these will remain closed until an incoming Government shows the determination to put things right, and allow us landlords to make a decent living from our properties.

We are not a charity! The social housing problem has not been created by us and it is not our responsibility to solve it. An incoming Government should concentrate in finding the right balance between new luxury developments and social housing, but they cannot use us as pawns in order to obtain votes. It is time that this injustice is put right. If this Act is not repealed, I have no doubt that the upper town area is going to become a big slum area, a ghetto or a ghost town within ten years. I invite all the parties contesting these elections to make a statement on what they will do if they come into power to remedy this gross injustice.

Rodney Perera

15-10-2019 PANORAMAdailyGIBRALTAR