[After twenty-four years of putting forth different rent bills, the Lebanese Parliament has issued a law to liberalize old rent contracts, published in the Official Gazette on 26 June 2014. A committee to protect the rights of tenants in Lebanon has been formed to oppose this new rent law, and has organized a number of protests throughout Beirut to demand its revision. A blog providing information about the law and documenting activists` initiatives against the new law has also been set up. Protests have been multiplying over the past week, and a march towards the Speaker`s House in Ain el-Tineh is organized on Wednesday 10 December to further pressure on parliamentarians to withdraw the new law before it goes into effect on 28 December 2014. Below is the text of the open letter a group of activists wrote against the new rent law. To add your name to the list of signatories, and for further information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. See also the contribution of Bruno Marot in Jadaliyya on this issue.]
Since 1992, the rent control system for new contracts was suspended, while it remained valid for all contracts ratified before that date. The liberalization of old rent was to be associated to a comprehensive housing policy which provides access to adequate housing at affordable prices, and which never materialized. The new rent law of 2014 raises several crucial questions. How does the law relate to social justice criteria, and how does it advance guarantees to “the right to housing?" How does it impact the future of Lebanese cities? In whose interests was this law drafted and approved?
We, the undersigned, believe that the new law reflects the lack of a comprehensive urban and housing policy vision, and a weak legislative process with little interest in social justice. This is particularly significant in the context of housing policies that do not take into account the right of access to affordable housing through rent. In fact, the new law violates the Constitution, specifically when it strips city dwellers of their housing guarantees without providing them with any alternatives.
Additionally, the law constitutes a flagrant violation of the concept of the right to the city on several fronts. If the law is put into effect, it will initiate a process of mass eviction of residents from their old homes and neighborhoods. National statistics from 2004 indicate that approximately half a million people in Lebanon live in apartments under the rent control system—the largest portion residing in the capital, Beirut. Despite the direct and severe impacts this law will have on hundreds of thousands of people, its drafting was not based on an updated statistical survey of the economic and social conditions of tenants. Effectively, this is a further injustice to the most vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and the disabled who have special needs. Moreover, the law considers “nationality” a criterion for receiving housing aid, thus creating distinctions among city dwellers, which did not exist previously.
As for the urban fabric of the city, the liberalization of rents will automatically transform lands with rent-controlled buildings into a target for real-estate development, especially those located in Beirut’s historic neighborhoods. Amidst the backdrop of a real-estate boom and rising land prices, the law does not provide any mechanism for preserving the historic fabric of the city nor the social constituency of its residents.
In fact, since 1992, the ownership of most lands with rent-controlled buildings shifted from old landlords into the hands of new owners and/or real-estate companies, who bought these lands cheaply, given the low lease and the rent-liberalization conditions at the time. As such, the new rent-liberalization conditions are a defect to the legitimate expectations upon which the old landowners sold their properties. This fact raises suspicions that the law passed, as many other laws and regulations in Lebanon, in favor of the interests of real-estate developers, and at the expense of the built environment and the needs of most city dwellers. Since the number of old landowners, the ones actually affected by the low value of rent, diminished, devising a mechanism to compensate them is possible, but was never suggested by Parliament.
Accordingly, we call upon the Lebanese Parliament to withdraw the new rent law, and to amend it fairly, as follows:
• First, work towards elaborating a comprehensive housing policy vision, and adopt additional laws that promote access to affordable housing through rent.
• Second, conduct a field survey according to transparent and scientific criteria to determine the actual economic and social situation of old tenants, identify their places of residence, and share survey results with civil society actors.
• Third, determine the percentage of old landowners compared to new owners.
• Fourth, formulate clear criteria for drafting the new law, taking into consideration the right to housing, the right to the city, and a guarantee of fair compensation for the owners.
• Fifth, create frameworks that seek to maintain the social fabric of neighborhoods, including keeping tenants in their homes, or in the neighborhoods where they always lived and sustained their livelihoods.
List of initial signatories:
Bashar Abdel Samad (architect)
Osmat Abdul Samad (general secretary of the Workers Liberation Front)
Maher Abi Samra (filmmaker)
Sawsan Abdulrahim (associate professor in Health Sciences, American University of Beirut)
Paul Achkar (journalist)
Nadine Bekdache (urbanist)
Jad Chaaban (Lebanese Economic Association)
Habib Debs (architect and urbanist)
Mohamad Fawaz (former director of the Directorate General of Urbanism)
Mona Fawaz (associate professor in Urban Planning, American University of Beirut)
George Geadah (journalist, artist)
Nayla Geagea (lawyer)
Kamal Hamdan (Consultation and Research Institute)
Charles Harb (associate professor in Psychology, American University of Beirut)
Mona Harb (associate professor in Urban Studies and Politics, American University of Beirut)
Abdul-Halim Jabr (architect and urban design consultant)
Mona Khechen (architect and urban planner)
Sylvana Al-Lakiss (president of the Lebanese Union for the Disabled and Disabled People˙s International Arab Region)
Sahar Mandour (journalist)
Khaled Saghieh (journalist)
Nizar Saghieh (Legal Agenda)
Abir Saksouk (architect and urbanist)
Fawwaz Traboulsi (writer and professor in Political Science and History, Lebanese American University)
Sarah Yassine (urban planner, environment expert)
Serge Yazigi (lecturer in Urban Planning, Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts)
Mohamd Zbeib (journalist)
["No to selling Beirut to real-estate companies." Protest in Sassine square, Achrafieh, 3 December 2014.
Image courtesy of sakanbeirut.wordpress.com]