Not so long ago, a condemned building was destroyed by fire. As a result a number of persons who were unlawful tenants were left homeless.
The place was a virtual squatters’ mansion with dozens of persons unlawfully occupying the property. Those affected by the fire received help from the government, private organizations and citizens. Plans were made to assist them obtaining house lots. Some of them took up that offer but others were not really interested in moving.
They wanted to stay right where they were even though they were being given the option of owning their own home. Not all of them were interested in owning their own home. They wanted to live free on someone else’s property. They wanted to live under the burnt-out building, oblivious to the dangers that were being posed.
Just after the fire, there were criticisms that were levelled at the local municipality for their failure to demolish the condemned structure.
Then something out of the ordinary happened. Following the destruction, there was an incident involving some of the former occupants and someone who claimed to have an interest in the property.
An official turned up and he was reported in the media as telling those who had moved back onto the premises that they should not remove since the records at the municipality had someone else as owning the property.
Now what business was it of that official to make that thoughtless intervention? Regardless of whose name appears in the rates and taxes records of Town Hall, the question of who should remain on the site has nothing to do with the municipality, and in fact, that statement should not have been made because even if the said person as reflected in the council’s register is the owner, this does not give anyone the right to go on the premises without the owner’s permission, for that constitutes trespassing.
Many years ago, there was a big fire in Tiger Bay, and a number of buildings were destroyed. These properties have owners, but even if the owners desired to take up possession of those properties, they could not do so, because in a jiffy squatters took up residence on the burnt-out spot. And this is in the heart of the city.
It is against this background that one has to greet the recent news that a decision has been taken to demolish a number of buildings which have been condemned and which pose a threat to life and limb.
While this news is welcome, one wonders just what will be the practical effect of these measures. Unless the owners are contacted, and prepared to fence off their properties almost immediately upon demolition, then what is likely to happen is that when the buildings come down, new persons will simply go and squat on the land.
Right now, persons who live overseas and own properties in Guyana are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they are fearful of renting their properties to tenants because sometimes you may not get the right tenants and the next thing you know is that when you are ready for your property you cannot gain possession, unless you take the tenants to court.
Some persons have resorted to allowing others to live in their homes rent-free, so as to make it easier, but when the time comes there is still a long drawn-out process involved. As such, many homeowners prefer to simply leave their homes unoccupied, and with just someone to oversee the property.
This is, however, becoming a huge risk in Guyana these days, because there are vagrants who are walking around the country looking for unoccupied houses. They either occupy them in droves or vandalize the building, piece by piece.
You can have the most posh of buildings and within weeks of leaving it unoccupied, return to find that what you had left behind is gone. Then the building is stripped naked. By the time you know what hit you, a mult-million-dollar building is worth nothing.
Many persons work all their lives to acquire a property and it is patently unfair for them to have to suffer these sorts of invasions. Laws are therefore needed to make squatting and trespassing, at least in respect to home occupations, a criminal offence.
All the rich societies in the world are built upon the protection of private property. Unless, therefore, there are functioning laws that help protect private property against summary usurpation and vandalism, then Guyana will remain poor.
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