Jail for unpaid rent, is it justified?

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Jail for unpaid rent, is it justified?

This sanction will only concern specific cases

Guillaume Kasbarian

Renaissance deputy (ex-LREM) of Eure-et-Loir

The vast majority of French tenants pay their rent each month and the rental relationship is going well. A small minority have difficulty paying, but the situation eventually settles down. And a minority of this minority of tenants survives without paying. The bill targets these situations. When they last several years, they can put owners in difficulty, especially small ones, jeopardize the payment of their charges such as property tax or the repayment of their loan. Their property then becomes a burden.

In these cases of non-payment, the tenant(s) remain in the property for several years, in particular because of excessively long delays in the eviction procedure. The new legislation does not aim to abolish these deadlines, but to shorten them to speed up the stages of the procedure and return to a reasonable timeframe. The maximum period increases from three to one year, by decision of the judge, unless the tenant makes an explicit request. These restrictions are not equivalent to the express procedure proposed in the case of squatters, which is very different and well differentiated from that for unpaid rent in the bill. Affected tenants here will not find themselves out overnight.

The new legislation also introduces the concept of an “offence” for unpaid rent, with a six-month prison sentence and a €7,500 fine. But this sanction will only concern specific cases of non-payment. We target situations where the lease is broken, the deadlines authorized by the judge have passed, and the winter break has passed. In this case, there is a manifest refusal to respect the court decision. The tort applies under these restrictive conditions. In addition, it can only be applied within the framework of a court decision issued by an independent judge. This bill only gives him the possibility of sanctioning: he can seize it, or not.

Once again, the overwhelming majority of rental disputes end up being settled in good and due form. Mishaps happen: difficulties in paying for a few months after a loss of employment, a divorce, a separation… This majority gives rise to rapid regularizations, and in no case will these situations be qualified as offences.

We are currently in France in a phase where the rental offer is constantly decreasing: owners are turning more and more to short-term accommodation, such as Airbnb. Which feeds our housing crisis. For its part, the demand continues to grow. If landlords are discouraged from renting their apartments, if they are not shown that the law is also on their side, then we should not be surprised if this crisis persists.

Collected by Sarah Dupont

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Jail for unpaid rent, is it justified?

It is a form of criminalization of poverty

Manuel Domergue

Director of Studies for the Abbé-Pierre Foundation and spokesperson for the Collective of United Associations for a New Public Housing Policy (CAU)

A rental eviction is already a very strong social sanction, which has very significant and very dissuasive effects. Adding a court conviction, and therefore making it a crime, is a form of double punishment. Sentencing people to six months in prison because they do not pay and do not leave their accommodation when the courts sentence them to eviction is a form of penalization and criminalization of poverty. People who don’t pay their rent don’t do it to harm society and take advantage of the system. These are people who can’t pay their rent or their utilities. That that results in a breach of the lease and an eviction, that’s the logic of the system, but sentencing them to prison for this reason is completely absurd.

Moreover, this bill provides that the judge cannot himself examine the veracity of the debt, the decency of the accommodation and grant time limits if the tenant does not request it himself. We know that tenants are relatively infrequent in hearings and relatively unaware of their rights. It is damaging to prevent the judge from doing his job, from assessing the situation. Rental eviction should not be an automatic procedure because the reality is not white or black. Shortening the judge’s deadlines, as provided for in the text, takes away his freedom.

To fight against unpaid rents, it is necessary to regulate rents, revalue social minima, wages, personalized housing assistance (APL) and, when all that is not enough, seek solutions with people to resume payment of rent. The owners belong in their vast majority to the well-to-do categories of the population. Unpaid rent, despite often abusive rents, is very rare, around 2%, and in the event of legal proceedings, the landlord obtains eviction at the end. It’s just that there are time limits, which are a requirement of the rule of law, which make it possible to respect the right to housing of the people assigned, and to give them time to turn around. Yes, it is not easy to expel people, and fortunately! Until now, the law of 1989 had allowed a form of balance in rental relations. With MP Kasbarian’s bill, we are in an assumed approach to the criminalization of poverty where the right to property completely supplants the right to housing.

Collected by Marie Pinabel

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