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COLUMN – On the tenant turned owner

SOSUEME-1One manifesto item that has popped up in the current British election campaigning is the facilitation of ownership of properties by persons who have been in occupation of them as tenants for significant periods of time.

It is not often that the “colony” leads the “mother country”, but Barbados has already been there and done that, so to speak. In 1980 the Tenantries Freehold Purchase Act, Cap. 239B was enacted by Parliament ostensibly to force the transfer from the hands of the planter class to their tenants at unbelievably rock bottom prices.

The act states that its purpose “is to establish by law a right for tenants of lots in tenantries who satisfy the requirements of this act to purchase the freehold at a purchase price governed by consideration of public policy and the requirements of the Constitution”. The transfer is not limited to plantation lands alone, but to any parcel of land within the confines of these 166 square miles.

A tenantry is any parcel of land subdivided into more than five lots for the letting as sites for chattel houses. A person qualifies to purchase the freehold of the lot in accordance with the legislation where he has resided on the lot for five continuous years, or five out of seven years, or where the lot has been used by him as a residence for his spouse, children, parents or siblings for the same periods.

Where the original tenant has sublet the property to a third party and none of his listed relatives continues to reside on the property then the subtenant becomes the person qualified to purchase.

The transaction involving the sale and purchase of the property is commenced at the instance of the qualified tenant giving notice in the prescribed form to the landlord and the Minister Responsible for Lands. The process requires the assistance of a lawyer, or that currently offered by the Urban Development Commission or the National Housing Corporation.

At the end of the rainbow is a conveyance (deed) transferring the property to the tenant. The landlord cannot refuse to convey the property, and if he attempts to do so, the transaction will be completed by the Registrar of Titles. The only reason for which a lot will not be conveyed is if the Chief Town Planner under Section 25 of the act certifies that the lot is unsuitable for purchase.

A tenant who purchases cannot, without the permission of a magistrate, sell the lot within a period of less than five years from the date of the conveyance, and must show evidence of hardship in order to obtain such permission.

Section 16 of the Constitution specifically provides that any “written law” providing for the compulsory acquisition or taking possession of property should prescribe “the principles on which and the manner in which compensation therefor is to be determined and given”. Accordingly, the Tenantries Act prescribes the price payable for a lot in a private tenantry (as opposed to a plantation tenantry) in the Second Schedule to the act as the “open market price of the lot assuming its existing use to be the siting of chattel houses”, and taking into account only developments made by the landlord.

Whatever the open market price, the tenant pays $2.50 per square foot and the balance is paid by the Government for lots up to 5,000 square feet in size. Where the lot exceeds 5,000 square feet the market price of the excess square footage is paid for
by the tenant.

Where there is any dispute as to the “open market price” of the lot, the question may be decided pursuant to Section 29 of the tenantries legislation by having the matter referred to the Small Holdings Committee in the first instance, with a right of appeal to appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 31 of the act, if one objects to the decision of the committee.

(Alicia A. Archer is an attorney-at-law.)

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