Help! I can’t pay my rent. What are my rights as a tenant?

Published August 22, 2020, 5:14 AM

by Johannes Chua

The impact of the pandemic can’t be underestimated in terms of the economy. Businesses are crumbling, factories are closing, restaurants and small enterprises are stopping operations. It seems everyone, except those in “high” places, is bleeding money.

Yes, business owners are affected, losing their investments by the millions. Amid the dire situation, they can sell some assets, take on low-interest loans, or scrap that vacation in the meantime. How about their workers? How about those who live pay-day per pay-day? 

With the sudden closure and huge losses of businesses, these workers were caught off-guard (some were not even given a separation pay), with no income to pay for an essential need—shelter.

A lot of them are just renting rooms and are anxious of the day their lessor would demand rent payment. Social media has documented various instances when a tenant who couldn’t pay rent was driven out of a room, pushed to the streets to fend for himself. There was even a story about a mom who had just given birth. The roof and door of the house she was renting were forcibly removed by the lessor, since she was laid off work and couldn’t pay the three-month rent.  

PANDEMIC PAIN Tenants have rights that landlords have to observe

These two are among the thousands of stories that portray the troubling consequence of the pandemic. These stories have raised some questions. People are now wondering if there are provisions in our law to protect the rights of the tenant.

Manila Bulletin Lifestyle reaches out to Earthauz, a company that has been helping real estate brokers and salespersons by offering them a platform to sell and network with one another. It also has a social networking platform, like LinkedIn, but purely about real estate. 

We checked online for questions related to the lessor-lessee relationship, which is a timely issue considering that the economy is going into a recession. Earthauz’s attorney, Margarita N. Gutierrez, a real estate lawyer and licensed real estate broker, answers five frequently-asked questions. She says that “these legal opinions are solely based on my appreciation of the problems that were provided. The opinion may vary when other facts are included or elaborated.”

Margarita N. Gutierrez, Earthauz’s attorney, real estate lawyer, and licensed real estate broker

I don’t have money since I’m on a no-work no-pay arrangement in my company. I can’t pay my rent anymore. The landowner is just waiting for a month due to my one-month advance deposit. Can I be evicted?

During this pandemic, your due date of rent, commercial or residential, within the declared community quarantine, whether ECQ, MECQ, GCQ can be paid after 30 days, a grace period, commencing from the last due date or from the lifting of the ECQ, MECQ, and GCQ, whichever is longer without incurring interests, penalties, fees, and other charges, as allowed under Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Memorandum Circular No. 20-31, issued on June 4, amending earlier issued Memorandum Circular 20-12.

If, after the grant of the grace period, you still cannot pay, you cannot be automatically evicted. The law provides that the tenant must still be given a notice prior to eviction. It is illegal to forcibly evict a tenant without due process.

I didn’t pay my rent on time. The landlord locked the doors to my apartment. Can he do that?

No. The action of the landlord amounts to eviction done without due process. You are entitled to a notice to vacate and pay before an action for ejectment can be filed against you. 

A family member is diagnosed with Covid-19. We are now all being forced to leave our apartment even though we are fully paid and the rest of us tested negative. Can this be done?

This is a matter that can be brought to the office of the barangay chairman, in coordination with the IATF and DTI. One member of the family infected with Covid-19 is not ground to eject all the members of the family in the rented apartment.

I can’t pay my rent because I was laid off from work. I asked the landlord if he could give me an “amnesty”—I will issue post-dated checks, which I would honor once I’m employed again. He refused to accept it. Do I have any right to negotiate since I was a good payer before?

Yes, you have a right to negotiate. You may ask the assistance of the barangay chairman, in case your rented unit is residential. Landlords and lessors are not allowed to evict their tenants, who are unable to pay either residential or commercial rent within a 30-day grace period after the lifting of the ECQ, MECQ, and GCQ.

You may send him a letter regarding the issuance of checks as payment of rent. 

I’m a landlord of an apartment that’s being rented out to a family. For four months, they were not able to pay the rent. I’m sympathetic to them, but I also have my needs as I’m a senior citizen and that’s my only source of income. What’s the first legal step should I do?

The first step is to send them a Demand Letter to Pay. If the tenant doesn’t respond, send him a Second Demand Letter to Pay. And if the tenant still refuses to pay, send a (Third) Final Demand to Pay with Notice to Pay and Vacate.

If your tenant still refuses to pay, you may file a complaint with the office of the barangay chairman. The barangay officials will try to mediate between you and the tenant. If they still refuse to pay you, the barangay chairman will issue a Certificate to File Action as proof that the parties have undergone a conciliation or mediation process. This is a prerequisite before filing an action in court for ejectment.