Zimbabwean lawyers have dismissed as unfair and irrational, a recent order by President Emmerson Mnangagwa barring landlords from compelling tenants to meet their monthly rental payments end of April due to loss of incomes caused by a prolonged national lockdown against the spread of coronavirus.
In a blunt response to the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act S1 96 of 2020 which defers payment of rentals in respect of residential premises and all mortgage repayments, the Law Society of Zimbabwe said the decree suppressed the rights of a section of society in attempts to protect those of the another.
“The Law Society is deeply concerned that SI 96 of 2020 only interferes with contracts between parties in relation to residential properties and leaves out the contracts in respect of commercial properties for no apparent reason,” said the lawyers group in a Sunday statement.
“This brings about an unjustifiable scenario where a commercial landlord who benefits from a deferment of mortgage repayments can still legitimately demand rental payments from his tenants of the same commercial premises,” said LSZ.
According to government, the rental payment reprieve was made in the interest of health and public safety as many employees took a forced break from their employment leading to loss of significant incomes to meet their monthly obligations to landlords.
“The situation as given above does not address, the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, the economic interest of Zimbabwe or the general public interest,” LSZ said.
“The situation describes an economic difficulty in respect of a section of the population and only in respect of a section of the national economy.
“Given the foregoing, the Society also believes that SI 96 of 2020 would therefore be irrational when law from which it draws its authority measured against the principal.
“It also fails to take into account the effect of loss of income that would result from the implementation of the SI for individuals who solely rely on rental income.”
LSZ added, “At the same time, the individuals whose property rights are being interfered with are still liable to pay rates, insurance premiums and other expenses for the same properties.
“They are also suffering the negative effects of the lockdown.
“Instead of holistically solving the burden brought about by the lockdown, the SI seeks to take the burden from one citizen and thrust it upon another who may also be suffering the consequences of the lockdown.”
It is the expectation of the LSZ, its membership and the general populace that government will cause public service providers like Zinwa, Local Authorities and ZESA to suspend or defer charging for their services which are basic needs.
The LSZ believes government could have approached this issue in a more holistic manner if indeed the rationale was to reduce the burden of COVID-19 effects on the populace.