Tenants of Pyramid Mall at #22 Swan Street, were upset today after they attempted to enter the building and realized that the lock on the main door had been changed.
They complained that landlord Ibrahim Noumeh took the unfair decision to change the locks because they refused to pay rent for the two months the country was on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, after agreeing to re-open the mall after a meeting with police and some of the tenants at his Broad Street store, Noumeh told members of the media that some of the tenants owed him as much as six months’ rent. He noted that he tried several ways to get his monies from them, including notices, phone calls and face-to-face conversations.
At one point, Noumeh and the tenants exchanged strong words and the police had to take steps to keep the situation under control.
Noumeh informed the officers that changing the lock was a last resort, explaining that he was fed up with the situation which he said has been brewing for a long time.
The mall was opened just after noon.
One tenant who admitted that she owed rent believed the situation could have been handled differently. She explained that while she understood Noumeh wanted his rent paid, tenants were struggling since there was a significant fall off in business in recent months.
“We can’t feel good coming to work to make a dollar and find out that the locks changed and we can’t get in. This is disrespectful. This is ridiculous. This is everything wrong. He could deal with this. People got children to feed and all this time we can’t get into our stores. We are losing the money we would make. A woman came to me to buy something to go somewhere today and she could not get it because I can’t get in,” the tenant said.
Meanwhile, tenant Reco Blenman said his research showed that according to the Landlord and Tenant (Registration of Tenancies) Act, what Noumeh did was unlawful.
Holding a copy of the act in his hand, Blenman read that a landlord who, with intent to circumvent any provision of this Act, deprives a tenant of the occupation of any part of the premises, let out to him is guilty of an offence unless the landlord satisfies the court that he believed and had reasonable cause to believe that the tenant ceased to occupy the premises.
“Now this is COVID times, everybody owes rent, the landlord also wanted tenants to pay for the months of April and May when the country was on lockdown. Most of the tenants, even before COVID were in arrears like two months, three months sometime. I myself was behind two months in rent and I was there for over 11 years.
“But it gives the landlord no right to place locks on the mall to prevent clients from occupying the said mall. A complaint was made to the police and they tried their best to rectify the situation and it was rectified.
“This situation could have been very different, in terms of tenants going and damaging the locks, or damaging the door to get back inside of the mall, but it was handled well by the Royal Barbados Police Force,” Blenman said.
The business owners said the message should be sent that landlords must not take the law into their own hands, especially during hard economic times.
Meanwhile, Noumeh said he was tired of the tenants telling him to come back for the rent another time. He said some of them even refuse to communicate with him.
“I give them notices; I go to them all the time, calling them on the phone. They would tell me I am coming Monday, Monday I don’t see them until the following Monday. And I ain’t charging them for COVID; I would be an unfair human being. There are nine or ten stores in the mall and none of them wants to pay. That was happening from last year with the same attitude.”
The landlord noted that the rent is cheaper than “anywhere else on the island, none of them exceed $3,000”.
“I pay the light, I pay the water, I pay the VAT,” he said. [email protected]
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