Barbs aside

The discussion about changing the renting regime goes on at the Legislative Assembly. The debate is providing our community with that pinch of salt that is so often absent from the political arena. There’s a certain entertainment value in the dispute about who said what and when, but these disagreements are not the heart of the matter. The proposed law touches on sensitive issues we should consider carefully on several grounds, including its likely effectiveness and suitability.
Let us remember that the concern at stake was – or many people think it was – the outlandish rise of rents in Macau in the course of the last decade or so. These rents have made the life of many residents difficult, to say the least, and condemned many a small business to closure. Some sectors of society demanded the intervention of the government to limit owners’ ability to increase rents. We may debate if that approach is reasonable or appropriate. We may even question if it is compatible with other legal provisions or guarantees, but the intention seemed clear: to protect the weakest party in the arrangement: the tenants.
For that purpose, the law, if approved in its initial form, would give the Chief Executive the responsibility of determining, every year, the maximum allowable rise in rents, bearing in mind ‘inflation’ and some vague ‘market conditions’. The proposal was, in its first reading, approved with a single abstention and no vote against – a broad consensus, we could say.
In fact, that was a bad idea, which strangely no-one seems to have thought through long enough to realize. We can be sure that was not the case, but it might even be regarded as a ‘solution’ conceived by lawmakers intent on framing the Chief Executive! He would have, every year, to make a decision that was bound to be unpopular with at least one of the sides of the equation, possibly both – if it was enforceable at all.
Curiously enough, a good deal of the document justifying the need for such a law deals with the way many tenants ‘cheat’ owners by not paying their dues on time and in full… And the main discussion, nowadays, appears focused upon the setting of such a high ceiling as to make it essentially meaningless. More attentive readers might even conclude that nowhere in the law does it deal with the real drivers of rent hikes.