I am a single woman entrepreneur in my 50s. My business manufactures ethnic jewellery made of beads and semi-precious stones, selling them in a small jewellery shop in Makati. Some time ago, I invested my savings in an apartment which I currently rent out. This is my nest egg for my retirement. With few family relations, I worry about sickness in old age.
One of my recent tenants was a young, pretty girl who told me she and her boyfriend had decided to live together and were looking for a flat in a good neighbourhood where my apartment was located. I never met her boyfriend, but she gave me a good advance and deposit for the flat and I had her signed contract.
Because I was busy at work, I relied on my house helper and my broker to help liaise with the tenant and manage the property. I learned soon after they moved into my flat that my tenant and her boyfriend had separated, and that she had asked him to move out whilst her mother took his place. Thereafter, the mother handled all the liaising work with us. I didn’t know the reason behind this, but as it didn’t seem to affect the tenancy agreement, I thought I should not meddle in their private lives.
However, in direct contravention of the lease agreement wherein she needed the landlord’s written permission, unbeknownst to me the tenant proceeded to get a pet dog. In another breach of contract, I heard she was conducting business presentations with outside clients in a unit that was for residential purposes only. I let these accusations go, reasoning out that so long as the neighbours did not complain and the dog did not destroy the property, I could overlook these errant behaviours. I only started to worry when a couple of months later, the neighbours did begin to complain about loud noises coming from the apartment.
I was, therefore, happy when the mother notified my helper that her daughter would not extend the lease. But I had forgotten that both mother and daughter were lackadaisical about following the terms of our agreement. They left the flat in disarray—dirty, pockmarks on furniture, unattended leakages from appliances that destroyed the woodwork underneath, etc. Whereas the contract stipulated that at the end of the lease, the tenant was to repair the damages beyond what were considered wear and tear, they simply walked out, and then demanded that the deposit be given back to them.
Naturally, prospective lessees couldn’t occupy the property until it had been restored to its previous tenantable condition. I, therefore, hired workers to do the necessary cleaning and repairs, deducting the costs from the deposit. However, the tenant was unwilling to accept the cheque with the deductions. After a series of arguments during which the mother resorted to name-calling, I refused to talk to them. They then threatened to take me to court.
A couple of weeks later, I received a summons from the PunongBarangay.** The tenant had filed a case against me for refusing to give back her deposit. Under pain of contempt of court, the summons required me to appear before the Barangay. I spent hours collating photos of damages, receipts of repair works, copies of the lease contract, contents inventory lists, etc. Additionally, I wrote a lengthy letter addressed to the Punong Barangay explaining my side.
I read that the purpose of the proceedings was mediation. I didn’t know whether this was something to which I was legally bound to obey. I was confused by the word “mediation” -- how could I submit to mediation on an open-and-shut case? One review of the case would see the obvious—that there was no case!
What if I didn’t want mediation? I had thought that mediation implied that both parties were amenable to a settled compromise. Actually, the total amount in contention was not very much, and I could well have afforded to settle. But from the very beginning, I had said I would not budge one centavo from what was written on the cheque as a question of principle. I had already been generous for not charging her all the expenses related to putting the apartment back to its previous condition. I also valued honesty and fairness and thought that if the tenant and her mother could get away with what they were trying to do, next time they would do it to someone else.
During our second meeting, the complainant did not show up. After 30 minutes of waiting, I asked if she was now in contempt of court. I got no answer. Instead, another session was tabled, and I was informed that again I had to wait for notice of when to go back. Before I left, however, I asked if I could see the papers that had been filed against me. The mediator opened a folder and waved a couple of pages of handwritten notes—the folder was otherwise empty.
It was interesting that during the aborted meeting, another “witness” showed up. Sent by the rejected boyfriend, she brought with her a photo of the tenant with her dog, another one of her standing and talking to a group of people facing a white screen board. Other papers were photocopies of cancelled cheques made out to me, representing the rents paid in advance as well as the full deposit—all signed by the boyfriend.
I was given a day’s notice for our third and supposedly final meeting -- I gave a sigh of relief. The Barangay had previously advised that there would be three such mediation meetings. If still no settlement was reached, it would be the end of their intervention—complainant and defendant could then go to court if we so wished.
The third meeting was full of confrontations and acrimonious recriminations. The mother mostly took the floor. She repeatedly pointed out that it was the fault of my helper who gave her false information. My helper denied her accusations and reported that she (the mother) tried to bribe her into accepting a small amount in exchange for the return of the full deposit. It soon degenerated into a “he-said-she-said” scene as neither one had any proof of any kind. On my part, I pointed out that all one had to do was read the contract, and that we should simply abide by the terms of our agreement. Further, I had pages and pages of photographs of damaged furniture and official repair receipts. However, I couldn’t understand why nobody seemed interested in what the contract had to say. In fact, they had misplaced the documents I had sent.
Finally, I was told that my so-called “evidence” with their exhaustive documentation was irrelevant because the mediators were not supposed to pass any judgment. Also irrelevant was my grousing that mediators had to be briefed anew as they changed from one meeting to the next. Instead, it was explained to me, the role of the Barangay was simply to provide a venue and to act as impartial listeners, but with the power to coerce my attendance. Thus, they were only concerned that proper procedures were kept.
No prior reviews on the merits of the case were done, nor were they to be expected. I was aghast! Was the government not concerned at all about the anxiety and wasted time it would cause the other party? What about the time and effort of the Barangay staff? If nobody was assigned to separate the grain from the chaff, anybody could lodge a complaint against anyone. What would happen when the staff would need their time to attend to a real, honest-to-goodness case where mediation would indeed be helpful?
After a couple of hours of discussion, I could see that our arguments were going round and round in circles. I finally said I had to go as I was feeling sick, whereupon the mediator asked what our decision was. The mother volunteered to give up a small portion of her claimed amount. I said I would not accept. Then she reduced it to half the amount in contention. I said no. Then she asked how much I would be willing to compromise just to resolve the case. I said not a centavo.
At this point, the mediator intoned that she was endorsing our case to a “higher body” and that she would contact us as to the next hearing schedule. Again, I was shocked! I had thought there would only be three mediation meetings! But I said fine and stood up. The mother then angrily called after me that she would accept the cheque after all. I again said fine and marched out of the room as my helper waited for the signed one-page acceptance slip.
I was still furious as I found my way home. I kept asking myself why we didn’t have a system that could screen cases and throw out those filed only for harassment purposes. So the next day, I took some time off from work to see what would have happened had the tenant not accepted the original cheque. After all, she had nothing to lose except her time, and she didn’t seem to value it. For me, my schedule was very busy, and I would incur a lot of opportunity costs each time I was out of the office.
It was difficult to get through to the Punong Barangay. The numbers listed on their letterhead were not working, and the several mobile numbers of particular people given to me were not answering, or were incessantly busy, or were wrong numbers. Finally, I got a sympathetic ear who said that the “higher body” referred to was the LupongBarangay.*** There, complainant and defendant would again hold three meetings, now in front of some 15 appointed Barangay residents in attendance. I asked, what if the issue would still not be resolved after then? I was advised that my best recourse would be to settle in order to prevent the case from escalating further. That, I was summarily told, was what most people did.
My parting thoughts: the world is full of tenants from hell, dishonest people who manipulate situations to their advantage. We do need protection from them as they try to exploit systemic inefficiencies and loopholes. But even when it tries, our local government is weak at generating systems that are genuinely protective of their citizens' rights. We are not good at creating such mechanisms because many of our policies are not carefully thought through. Is this a cultural trait?
*Smallest Filipino political unit; local village
** Barangay Captain
*** Barangay Board
Our laws in Germany are also so pro-tenant , you cannot evict even if no rental payment for more than a year for spurious reasons.
Thank you, Gunter, Leng, and Jill. You are all correct--it was a horrible experience. But the point I wanted to address was that this need not have happened if our govt offered us better protection.
That is a terrible experience. I am very sorry that you had to go through it. I had a similar experience with a nightmare tenant. There are just people who have no integrity at all.
Reminds me of the time I caught a thief red-handed...sorry, your allowable comment length doesn't permit me to tell the story.
Today | 02:37
Thank you, Gunter, Leng, and Jill. You are all correct--it was a horrible experience. But the poin
27.11 | 23:25
Our laws in Germany are also so pro-tenant , you cannot evict even if no rental payment for more th