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The law is pro-tenant

June 15, 2006

Rents: Can landlord and tenant freely agree rents in US Virgin Is.?

According to the Virgin Islands Code (Title 28, Ch. 31, Sec. 834), rents in the US Virgin Islands are frozen at their 1947 level because of a rent control act. For housingaccommodations,the maximum rentceiling is the rent that was in force and effect on July 1, 1947. For buildings created and/or rented after July 1, 1947, the maximum rent allowed is the first rent charged for the unit.

A landlord may petition the Rent Control Officer to adjust the maximum rent ceiling as compensation for major capital improvements or structural changes.

Deposits

For long term rentals (3 months to a year), it is normal to request the first and last months' rent prior to occupancy. In addition to that, a security deposit - equal to a month's rent - may be held in an escrow account, refundable if the property is left in good condition.

What rights do landlords and tenants have in US Virgin Is., especially as to duration of contract, and eviction?

Although there are no specific landlord and tenant laws, there are provisions contained in previous court decisions that protect tenants. Nevertheless, it is the signed contract that largely governs the relationship between the landlord and the tenant, which is admissible in court as well.

Most landlords require long term leases to be at least 6 months to one year. The tenant can terminate the contract by giving a month's notice. But if the rental payment is given every three months, then the notice to terminate must be given three months in advance.

A tenancy may be terminated for nonpayment of rent with at least 14 days' notice. For reasons other than rent default, the landlord is required to give a 30-day notice and apply for a court approval prior to evicting the tenant. If the landlord is given the right to recover the premises, the tenant may delay the eviction up to 6 months only. This is to give the tenant ample time to look for another unit of housing. The tenant must pay the rent for the court-granted extension.

Acceptable grounds for evicting tenants are owner's use of the property, demolition to create a new building, and breach of contract. In case of personal use and reconstruction, if the landlord decides to lease out the unit the previous tenant has the right of first refusal (i.e. the landlord must offer it first to the previous tenant). The tenant must reply within 30 days. If the landlord violates this provision he must pay the evicted tenant double of everything he earned from the new tenant or $50, whichever is greater.

How effective is the US Virgin Is. legal system?

The Rent Control Division investigates complaints regarding landlord and tenant relations. The Rent Control Officer approves applications for rent adjustment. The decision may be appealed within 10 days to the Commissioner of Housing and Community Renewal. Within 10 days after the issuance of the order of the Commissioner, the aggrieved party may appeal further to the district court for a possible reversal of the decision.

Legislation

Landlord and tenant relations are covered by the Virgin Islands Code, Title Twenty Eight (Property), Chapter 31 (Landlord and Tenant). Sub-chapter III deals with Rent Control, sub-chapter II provides provisions for Forcible Entry and Detainer and sub-chapter I contains General Provisions.

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