Court rules in favour of SMHDF to evict 15 delinquent tenants

Owe combined NAf. 150,000 in rent
PHILIPSBURG--The Court of First Instance on Friday ruled in favour of St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) and its actions to evict fifteen of its apartment tenants, who combined owe the housing foundation approximately NAf. 150,000 in back rent.

The cases were brought to court on Friday, September 16.

One week later, the judge agreed with SMHDF that tenants had been given several opportunities to make arrangements to bring their accounts up to par. Two of the 15 were given two days to pay off their rent debt.

SMHDF Managing Director Henry Lynch explained: "Our collection process starts with a friendly phone call when you are one month outstanding, a letter after two months, another letter and an invitation for a consultation (payment arrangement) after three months. If all of this fails, we refer the case to the lawyer, who first sends a demand letter, before requesting a court injunction."

Lynch also said the foundation hired a social worker to help assess the social aspect of all cases, before they were referred to the lawyer. "Additionally, we meet with the Social Affairs Department to expedite said cases," he said, adding that SMHDF had also enhanced communication with government to ensure government subsidies were received in a timely manner, "and they have been," he said.

Also, Lynch continued, past management of SMHDF allowed balances to grow to substantial amounts, to the point "where tenants were never able to redeem themselves." He said once a tenant has cumulatively fallen behind more than 12 months in rent payments, "it is practically impossible to become current, unless there is some form of grant."

"SMHDF has been diligently working with several Ministries [government-Ed.] and other stakeholders to come up with structural solutions to these problems. Eviction is our last resort. Restructuring of SMHDF finances is currently ongoing in order to enable more flexibility in the future," Lynch said.

As for when the eviction orders will be executed, Lynch said there is a period before the verdicts are executed, but suggested that SMHDF would want to execute the order sooner rather than later.
"The longer that is [the period before execution of the verdict-Ed.], the higher the balances. Additionally, there is additional cost involved, if we have to retain the services of the Marshall to execute the verdict. There is also a statute of limitations on the execution of the verdict. In some of these cases, the tenants have prior verdicts against them that were not executed," he said.

SMHDF manages the emergency homes and the units in Hope Estate and Belvedere. It was not clear by press time from which area the 15 tenants originated.

24 September 2011

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