Members back rent tribunal – but reject rest of Deputy’s housing plan

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A PROPOSAL to introduce a rent tribunal or housing commission to adjudicate on disputes has been adopted by the States Assembly.

The measure was one of several rent control policies put forward by Deputy Sam Mézec, a former Housing Minister, who saw the other elements of his proposition designed to protect tenants in rented properties defeated in a series of votes yesterday afternoon.

Both he and Housing Minister David Warr had brought forward proposals, with the latter’s plan contained within a policy document known as a white paper. That paper is the subject of an ‘in-committee debate’ among Members that started yesterday afternoon and which will continue today.

No vote will follow the in-committee debate, with the matter also being the subject of a consultation process over the coming months.

Putting forward his proposition yesterday, Deputy Mézec said that the Island’s housing crisis was shown not just in statistical evidence about the unaffordability of property and the number of people suffering rental stress, but also through stories of those he was close to.

‘These people are growing desperate about their future prospects,’ he said. ‘Some of those I grew up with have already left [Jersey] and there are more who plan to do that – people in their late-50s are scared that their children will leave the Island and they won’t get to spend time with them or see their grandchildren.’

No meaningful action had been taken for many years, Deputy Mézec added, only tweaks that fell short of the ‘real systemic change that would give hope to Islanders’.

In his proposition, Deputy Mézec included measures for rent stabilisation in the private sector, abolishing the idea of ‘no fault evictions’ by bringing in open-ended tenancies and enhanced notice periods for long-standing tenants. It also called for the creation of a rent tribunal.

Deputy Mézec said that Deputy Warr’s white paper was ‘virtually identical’ to the contents of his proposition, and explained he feared the Housing Minister would bring the matter back to the Assembly at the end of the year, but that it would have been watered down between now and then.

In response, Deputy Warr said the Reform Jersey leader’s proposition was ‘lacking in clear evidence’ and accused Deputy Mézec of seeking to ‘railroad through [the proposition] without listening to the public’.

Deputy Warr added: ‘We must look at this as a whole and have something that is well-co-ordinated and balanced, whereas this [proposition from Deputy Mézec] would completely defeat the purpose of consultation.’

Deputy Catherine Curtis said that the measures put forward by her Reform Jersey colleague would bring security to 12,000 households in the Island.

But Deputy Steve Luce, who chairs of the Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel, said that he felt the Housing Minister’s proposed plan was ‘more comprehensive and more considered’ than that advanced by Deputy Mézec. Deputy Sir Philip Bailhache agreed, calling the proposition put before Members yesterday ‘disruptive.’

Deputy Geoff Southern picked out six phrases from the competing proposals and asked Members to state whether they were made by Deputy Warr or Deputy Mézec, in order to illustrate how similar their plans were.

The different sections of Deputy Mézec’s proposition were voted on individually. Before Members supported his plan to establish a rent tribunal by 22 votes to 20, Deputy Mézec saw the other elements of his proposition defeated by margins of between four and 22 votes.

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