Culture vs Ethics: My observations renting and owning in Barbados
I love my new home. It was difficult downsizing and getting rid of my stuff, but the uncluttered smaller space suits me and my new lifestyle. I am not going to lie; it has been a nightmare buying this place.
I had done a lot of research online before I went looking in person for this home. I saw the condo in my first outing and fell in love with it. After the second viewing, I put in an offer, and it was accepted. Much less drama then in Canada, where I have been in multiple offer situations.
The lawyers were able to get the initial paperwork to me before I left traveling in May. I went into a bank branch in Canada to make the initial wire transfer for the deposit and that is where it all went wrong. While I was in Bali, a twelve-hour time difference, the wire transfer bounced, and the Bajan funds were returned. The lawyers had given me instructions for US$, even though I am a Canadian citizen, with a Canadian bank account, with revenue streams in CDN$.
Mistakes happen and there is a need to be forgiving. However, it is the way one cleans up a mistake that conveys something culturally and ethically. During the next month in Bali, I spent many hours trying to figure out what had gone wrong and how to rectify the situation. I was not supported by my lawyers in Barbados. It was implied that myself and my bank had messed up the transfer.
By the middle of July, I was fed up enough to write a letter to the managing partner of the law firm. There had been no apologies until that letter was received. However, the managing partner contacted me immediately and made me feel that my concerns had finally been heard. It was that letter that moved things along and allowed me to occupy the condo upon my return to Barbados.
Along the way, the supervising partner gave me a lecture about culture. Things move slowly in Barbados, there is not the same process of title and deed registration, and things must be done manually. I had already been warned by both the local and ex pat community that buying a home in Barbados was a very frustrating process. I understand this to be cultural and patience is required.
Yet, there is an ethical component that I outlined in my letter to the law firm. As a Chartered Accountant, it is clear in our code of conduct that we only take clients that we have the expertise to service. If the firm lacks the required knowledge, they are to source it externally to serve the client effectively. When we ran into the problem of sending funds from Canada to Barbados, my lawyers should have problem-solved based on past clients or referred to colleagues on the island for advice when their own bank could not devise a solution. It was unethical to take me as a client if they did not have the expertise to deal with an international transaction Involving Canadians funds.
I have big plans for the seating area, including a window cubby to sit and read...watch this space
Where is the dividing line between culture and ethics?
This week I have run up against my previous landlord for the property I rented up until April 30th. I am unable to get my rent deposit back, worth $2,500 BDS/ $1,250 US. The rent deposit was technically due within 30 days of me vacating, but we had agreed that she would pay me cash upon my return. I have been back for nearly three weeks.
She has since sent an email of items worth $1,500 BDS ($750 US) that she would be deducting from my rent deposit, many of them outrageous. None of these had been discussed with me previously and I had been left with the impression, in writing, that there were no concerns upon my vacancy.
I turned to a local WhatsApp chat for advice. Many expats had stories about Bajan landlords keeping rent deposits or making it so difficult to recover that the tenants eventually gave up. Some people pointed out that culturally we should not expect things to operate as they do at “home.” From my viewpoint, this is not a cultural aspect but an ethical one. The rent deposit is meant to protect the landowner against damage beyond normal wear and tear. Keeping the deposit to supplement rent or pay for repairs that should have been done before the tenancy began is not ethical.
The problem is that “at home” there is a governmental dispute resolution to dissuade these situations and to punish offenders. This does not exist in Barbados. Due to a lack of regulation, this appears to have become an ongoing issue and accepted as part of the culture.
Kian looks out over the water at the rainbow.
Lorena organized a boat trip for Monique's visit and a new friend April joined us. [April, Lorena, Monique, and I]
Kian and Tristan share something with April's child Sophie.
Luca chills out at the front of the boat.
When does an unethical practice become part of the local culture? Should this ever be accepted if it means putting someone of lesser power in a vulnerable situation?
I have written about this before and I will restate – there are people in my own home country, many of them immigrants without support networks, that find themselves in this position. They feel that they do not have a choice and so must accept the treatment of those taking advantage of them.
This can be frightening when you don’t know the culture. But it is not just a cultural issue, it is an ethical one.
I would love to hear your thoughts: When do we accept certain treatments as part of the culture that we have integrated into? When is an action unethical, regardless of the country that it takes place?