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Introducing The National Tenants' Union Of Ghana

National Tenants' Union Of Ghana (NATUG)
15 May 2017 | Press Statement

The National Tenants’ Union is a group of like-minded Ghanaians with an interest to collectively fight for our rights to decent and affordable housing. We operate under the name National Tenants’ Union of Ghana, (NATUG), and we are a membership-based group.

In collective terms, our aim is to Educate and Inform, Advocate, Advise and Influence decisions through policy advice and call for legislative reforms to improve living conditions and to empower tenants and property owners to have a good working and living relationship.

The Tenants’ Union of Ghana was founded in 2012, and has since been working under-tone through issuance of Articles and Publications in the press to educate and alert agencies responsible for shelter, and so to speak housing, to rise to ensure the housing challenge and crisis facing the country are dealt with.

The Association since its formation has released more than six publications and has appeared severally on a number of media sets to physically educate and inform the public and advise the Rent Control Department. The Rent Control Department is the agency mandated under Act 220, 1963 and the Rent Control Law, (PNDCL 138) 1986 to be the principal power in resolving conflicts between landlords, tenants and all individuals with interests in properties. Nevertheless, this department has been inefficient and has ignored every counsel of NATUG.

We are therefore, taking this opportunity to break the back of the camel to expose the Ministry of Housing and the Rent Control Department. If we say government, we mean all Governments that have come and gone from the Second to the fourth Republic after 1963 when the Rent Law of Ghana came into being and became a legal working document.

We indicate in most of our publications and features that the problem we face as a country is largely due to the lack of commitments by governments to invest in housing and always trying to treat housing as a commodity instead of seeing it as a Human Rights issue.

The Rent Control Department undesirably, is a nuisance and a toothless bull dog that cannot bite. The agency is inefficient, has lost its moral fabric, and has moved from its core and legitimate duties as enshrined in the Act, Act 220.

THE UNDERLYING AND ON-GOING ISSUES
Are current and successive governments committed to housing provision for the people?

The housing challenge and crisis in Ghana today can largely, placed, at the doorstep of governments after the colonial Era.

Several pro-poor housing schemes initiated by the colonial government dating back into the days of Governor Gordon Gurggisberg, Sir Alan Burns, among others. Between 1920 to date direct government interventions in housing delivery has contributed to over 20,456 housing units, although 120,000 housing units were needed annually for 10 years to bridge the GAP. The Housing Gap has widened further under the Fourth Republic considering the fact that it has been one promise from one government to the other.

Currently, putting together housing delivery by Private entities and the public/ Government interventions, about 33% of the required annual demand of 120,000 housing units is supplied. What it means is that, in every year we are in deficit as a country by 67% and that translates into 80, 400 housing units.

As at 2010, Ghana’s Housing deficit was pegged at 1.5 million housing units and by extrapolations and calculations, from 2010 to date; we widened the deficit Gap by 562,800 housing units.

Today, our housing deficit as a country is widely known and purported to be at 1.7 million housing units, but we bet to differ, the real deficit is Two Million Sixty – two thousand Eight Hundred housing units, (2,062,800) and not as much made known to be 1.7 million, which unfortunately, the Sector Minister, Hon. Atta Akyea has also been deceived by public say to conclude that the current housing deficit is 1.7 million, presumably, thinking that 7 years down the lane the deficit has not changed though housing supply has not increased.

ARE POLICY MAKERS REALLY COMMITTED TO THEIR PROMISES?

It has been one story from policy makers, professionals’ broken promise to the other. Politicians in every four years come up in their manifestos nicely indicate what they would do specifically to improve the housing deficit faced by the country, Unfortunately, it has always been one lie to the other, though the politician acknowledges the enormity of the problem and mount political platforms to swindle the minds of the masses and look into their faces with housing promises that they fail to honor.

From 2000 to 2016, the two leading political parties, the NDC and the NPP made strong promises to resolve the housing deficits.

In 2004, seeking second term in office, the NPP promised the following;

  • That they will take the necessary measures to encourage, facilitate and partner the private sector to deliver a large number of decent and affordable housing units for rentals, lease-purchase and home ownership.

  • That they will establish a primary mortgage finance Institution to provide varied lending and saving services to house owners, would-be house owners and house developers.

They promised to promote and facilitate private sector involvement in the provision of rental housing accommodation in urban centres to meet the urgent housing needs of students, the youth entering working life for the first time, and many other to whom the payment of “Rent Advance” poses insurmountable problems.

  • That they will also vigorously peruse solutions to the housing needs of Nurses, Doctors, Paramedics, Teachers (especially those in the rural areas), security agency personnel, public and civil servants, as well as social housing for the aged and the vulnerable.

They went ahead and promised that, they will provide Hostels and associated facilities inside and outside Tertiary campuses to facilitate admission of more boarding and day students.

In 2008, the NDC under their housing delivery promises indicated that most Ghanaians know too well the problems with housing overcrowding, poor quality, and just simply not enough places to live decently. They went ahead and added that fixing the problem means lowering the cost of building materials and inputs, improving building sills and enforcing standards.

They then went on to promise the following in 2008;

  • That they will invest in large scale local productions of building materials.

  • That they will facilitate access to credit for building and mortgages.

  • That they will create land banks, ensure available and affordable serviced plots with proper compensation for stool and family lands.

In 2012, the following promises were again made by the NDC;

  • That they will establish a National Human settlements commission.

  • Create Land banks in all MMDAS to ensure availability of serviced lands for the construction of affordable housing at an affordable cost.

  • That they will encourage the MMDAS, to use their common fund to embark on the construction of rental housing on a massive scale.

The NPP in their 2016 housing “promise basket” indicated the following;

  • That they will improve the overall affordability and access to decent homes for all working Ghanaians and their families.

  • That they will develop housing units targeted at the vulnerable and marginalized in the society.

  • That they will facilitate the development of an active mortgage market to expand mortgage loans to Ghanaians.

Over 16 years down the lane, we cannot pin point even one (1) rental housing unit to be backed by the promises made by the NPP and the NDC. All Government interventions in the housing sector have either not been successful or are at various stages yet to be completed. Clear examples include the so called Affordable housing units left uncompleted under President Kuffour. Under President Mills, the STX project became a fiasco, and those built under President Mahama at Selgema which were completed for allocation is far beyond the reach of the ordinary Ghanaian.

Houses built by the Government are being sold for $27,000 and $57,000. Is that what they term affordable? I beg to differ!

Housing, for that matter shelter, is simply one of the primary necessities of life, yet our Governments, present and past continuously undermine it and treat it like any other worthless commodity.

ENFORCEMENT OF RENT LAWS, REALITY OR A SHAM?

As tenants, we are very concerned about the regulations and laws governing our activities. The law governing rent in Ghana today is the Rent Act, Act 220. The Act came into being in 1963 and till date is the same law governing the activities in all residential accommodation. 54 years down the lane, the Act has outlived its usefulness and experts have called for amendments to some portions of the law for it to be consistent with modernity. However after more than a decade, the call for the law to be amended has not been taken seriously by policy makers, especially the Housing Ministry and Housing Ministers passed on.

We are of the believe that, if for whatever reasons the Government cannot build to make housing accessible to all, then the least we expect is a strengthened law that will regulate Rent and make actors responsive and accountable to promote a sound Rent Control regime.

We would like to associate ourselves with Kenneth A. Donkor Hyiaman, University of Cambridge, and the author who chronicled the Article, THE RENT ACT 1963 IN CONTEMPORARY GHANA AN ANOCHRONISIM.

The author emphasized two “factors that in his opinion make the Rent Act irrelevant and the need to overhaul the Act and review it to conform to modernity. He termed the two causes as Regulatory Arbitrage and Regulatory Lax and said is the cause of the ineffectiveness of the Act.

Regulatory arbitrage is a practice whereby legal entities (in this case a tenant or landlord) capitalize on loopholes in the regulatory system in order to circumvent unfavorable regulation. These loopholes occur as a result of differences between economic circumstance and regulatory position; thus, new circumstances, usually economic in nature have developed which are not covered by the law. This is an advantage exploited at little or no cost; or the possibility of a risk-free benefit. For instance, when the punishment for a landlord who demand or receive two years rent advance instead of the six months rent advance for monthly or shorter leases as stipulated by Section 25(5) of the Rent Act is “ten thousand cedis, which is GH¢1.00 today. I contend that no rational landlord will comply when the probability of a costless or risk-free benefit is inevitable. A penalty of GH¢1 today could be considered as virtually costless.

Typically, current economic circumstances have outdated the Rent Act, rendering its compliance useless. This leverage exploited by landlords is deeply seated in the shortage of housing in Ghana, such that the highest bidder wins the auction.

Regulatory lax on the other hand results from the partial and/or non-enforcement of the Rent Act; typical in instances where landlords or tenants who breach the law are not reported and even in some instances when reported. This manifests in two ways, (1) intentional and (2) unintentional. It is intentional when authorities indiscriminately hesitate to apply the law discretionarily for some unwarranted and legally unjustified benefits whiles the counterparty benefit or detriment accrues to either landlords or tenants; i.e. bribery and corruption. Thus, the law is not evoked by either landlord or tenant when a right accrues. In fact, Rent Officers are estopped by Section 24 of the Rent Act from awarding cost or receiving payment for any service except his salary and such other remuneration as may be prescribed.

Nonetheless, officers of the Rent Control Department have been vilified for conniving with landlords to fix recoverable rent over and above the recoverable rent to be paid by the tenant in exchange for kick-backs from the landlord. It is also alleged that Rent Officers charge law abiding Landlords before assessing recoverable rents for their premises. This illegal act is a disincentive to Landlords who wants to abide by the provisions in the Rent Act. Situations have been reported where Landlords bribe the Rent Control officer to evict tenants faster and the tenants on the other hand “counter bribe” the Rent Control Officer rather than pay back rent. In all these scenarios, parties have not acted on the law.

Conversely, unintentional regulatory lax emanates from regulatory arbitrage. This evokes a sense of simultaneity between regulatory lax and regulatory arbitrage. That is, regulatory lax could be caused regulatory arbitrage and vice versa. Unintentional regulatory lax is therefore a clog on the enforceability of the Rent Act. For instance, the Rent Act only covers specific buildings registered under the law; now, what happens to buildings not affected? In recent time, such buildings virtually exist. The law is therefore incapable of enforcement even when a case is reported.

More so, excessive cost and the cumbersome nature of the processes leading to enforcement usually results in extra legality; which leads to regulatory lax. It is costless or cheaper to operate without the law; as Ghana's land courts are clogged with numerous land cases, which delay the delivery of justice. This is aside agents or brokers charging more than 5% on the whole rent-advance required by landlords instead of 5% of the recoverable rent for one year for premises as commission (transaction cost) for providing services in connection with grants, renewal, continuance or assignment of tenancies demand. In the first place, landlords are only permitted by the Rent Act to charge up to six (6) months’ rent in advance; yet, even the most sophisticated of tenants (someone with full knowledge of the pros and cons of the Rent Act) compromise on landlords' demand for more than six months’ rent advance.”

We therefore demand with immediate effect from Government and specifically from the Housing Minister to commit himself to reviewing the Rent Act which we are reliably informed is with cabinet, and has been with cabinet for more than six years without being sent to parliament for debate which clearly shows the level of no seriousness attached to housing in Ghana.

THE INEFFECTIVENESS OF THE RENT CONTROL DEPARTMENT
We are pleased to introduce this very important, but very worrying subject bothering the operations and the activities of the Rent control Department, the agency mandated by the Rent Act to be in charge of Administering and applying the law to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings between tenants and landlords.

Section 2 of the Act requires the appointment of a Rent Commissioner. Surprisingly, 54 years into implementing the law, the Rent Commissioner is yet to be appointed. The law places the Rent Commissioner in a position to directly report and takes directive from the Housing Minister, and is the only officer to deal directly with the Minister.

The Commissioner becomes the political head of the Department while the Chief Rent Officer takes up the Administrative assignments. A wide Gap has been created due to the absence and no commissioner bringing a disconnect between the Department and the Ministry.

We are therefore requesting the Housing Minister to initiate a move with immediate effect to appoint a Rent Commissioner as required by law. Failure to do so will mean that Union will head to the court of law to compel the minister to do so.

In other commentaries, the Rent Control Department has been labeled as a very corrupt institution where it is alleged that both the tenant and the landlord have to bribe and counter bribe to be successful in winning a case before a Rent Officer. Whether this Allegation is true or not, proper investigations need to be conducted to ascertain the truth to bring sanity to the activities of the Department.

Our interactions some time past with other senior officers including the then Chief Rent Officer, Mr. Ado Soin Dombo, revealed that their allocated resources from the Housing Ministry do not come sometimes, and even if it comes, it comes at the last quarter of the year. A clear example was in 2012, when the Chief Rent Officer indicated that the budgetary allocation of the Department came in three months to the end of the year.

The Rent Control Department also laments that they do not have the necessary logistics or resources to function as required by law. Thus, claiming that they are inefficient as a result of lack of logistics or resources to work.

Our interactions with the Chief Rent Officer revealed that the Rent Control Department does not have even one vehicle, as the one they had is rickety and has broken down. Meaning, to have an assessment of a situation in a home, the complainant in a case has to hire a taxi to and from his/her location to enable the Rent officer does its work. Clearly, this is a breeding ground for corruption and bribery, to say the least.

It has also emerged from our investigations that the Rent Control Department in this modern times is still not having computers, but still resorts to other archaic means to keeping records, considering the number of cases and records they have to keep in day, not to talk about records keeping in a month or better still in year.

We would take this opportunity to appeal to the Housing Minister to support the Rent Control to be efficient to live up to its mandate as the law prescribes.

As a matter of urgency, we call for an immediate Review of the Rent Law. Does the law really deal with landlords who breach the law? What about institutions who blatantly refuse to comply with the law? According Section 25 (5) of the Act,

“Any Person who as a condition of grant, Renewal or Continuance of a Tenancy, demands, in a case of monthly or shorter tenancy, the payment in Advance of more than a month’s or in the case of a tenancy exceeding six months, the payment in advance for more than six months rents shall be guilty of an offense and shall upon conviction by the appropriate rent magistrate be liable to a find not exceeding 100 pounds ( as amended in 1986, to Ten Thousand cedis, today’s GHC 1) or in default imprisonment term not exceeding 2yrs.

With the above provision under Act 220, we find it very difficult as a Union to understand the Executives and the Legislature. Does the four-year rent advance paid to a Parliamentarian amounting to GHC 50,000 for each of the 275 parliamentarians not in breach of the law as stipulated above? This is a question we would like to subject to public debate, and possibly legal interpretation by the Supreme Court in the future.

Also if you remember, not too long ago, it came to light that a whole CHRAJ Boss was paying her rent in dollars and above all, paying rent in excess of the six month prescribed by law. In principle she should have been jailed for her misconduct under section 25 ( 5) and Section 19(2) of PNDCL 138. But, because of the “scratch my back and I scratch yours syndrome” she was left off the hook after breaching the law with impunity. So, what cue do we expect others to take from these attitudes if such influential personalities blatantly refuse to ignore the law and pretend they are mightier than the same laws they enact and supervise. This is serious!

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NATIONAL HOUSING POLICY
For your information, it took the country over 40 years to come up with a collective and Exclusive National Housing Policy.

The National Housing policy is a road map to see as through the challenge we face as a country in terms of housing delivery, unfortunately, is past 2 years after the launch of the Housing Policy and its implementation and other strategic frame works to get the policy executed is yet to be realized. Clearly, these are signs of unseriousness on the party of Government to be committed to its social contacts with the good people of Ghana and Housing delivery in particular.

We therefore, would advice that the newly appointed Housing Minister, Hon. Samuel Attah Akyea chart a new course and do something different from what was done by his predecessors where a bunch of media houses and journalists follow them to showcase what was done by previous Government in the area of housing and its associated projects, just to swindle the minds of Ghanaians.

Thank you.
Frederick Opoku
Secretary – General
NATUG

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