House rent skyrockets

Runaway rent outpaces tenants' income by far; consumer body says it keeps on rising at least 15pc annually for last 10 years

School teacher Mohammad Aminul Islam is out on the streets looking for a house.

His landlord has served him a notice: either pay an extra TK 2,000 a month or vacate the house.

For this nondescript two-room house in Khilgaon residential area in the capital, Aminul has been paying a monthly rent of Tk 10,000 inclusive of utility bills since January when the rent was hiked by Tk 2,000.

The owner paid no heed to Aminul's protest that this arbitrary hike is not permitted by law.

Since the raise is too high for him, Aminul -- his wife expecting their first baby later this year-- is desperately looking for a house within the rent he can afford.

“I've rushed from one To-Let to another. But a two-room house I need is not available at less than Tk 14,000 a month. It's beyond my reach,” says Aminul, who teaches at Khilgaon Government Colony High School.

Aminul earns about Tk 17,000 a month -- Tk 4,000 in salary from the school plus Tk 13,000 from private tuition at his house.

“If I'm to spend Tk 14,000 on house rent alone, I'll be left with only Tk 3,000 to pay for food, transportation and other needs,” he said. “With the baby on the way, my wife needs to take extra food like fish, milk, vegetables and fruits. But I can't afford it.”

Aminul does not want to move from Khilgaon to areas where cheaper houses are still available for fear of losing students for private tuition.

The rent hike Aminul's landlord is asking is not permitted by the House Rent Control Act 1991. The act requires the owners to negotiate the hike with the tenants. In this case the owner has not discussed the issue with Aminul.

Under the law, tenants like Aminul can take the owner to the Rent Controller for the unilateral rent hike. But he has been reminded by the landlord that he signed no rent contract with him, a commonly made tenant error.

Aminul's story is typical of the plight most tenants suffer in Dhaka, one of the world's fastest growing and densely populated mega cities.

Getting a house on rent is itself a great relief. But for many, this can be the starting point of a host of other problems relating to the use of electricity, water and gas. Many tenants live under constant fear that the owners may come any day to announce a unilateral rent hike or serve a notice to vacate the house like what has happened with Aminul.

The bustling city is drawing migrants from the rural areas coming in search of jobs, education and better life. The inflow is putting pressure on the city's limited accommodation capacity and the failing utility services.

Nearly 70 percent of some 15 million people in the capital depend on rented houses. And 40 percent of the city population are slum dwellers and over 20 percent of them live on rented spaces, said Prof Nazrul Islam, an urban planning expert.

The house owners usually dictate the terms with tenants having little say. The owners ask for a rent with a stern message to the tenants: Take it or leave it. This is my house and I make the decision, not you.

The runaway house rent in the capital hurts all sections of the residents but the hardest-hit are the middle and lower-middle class people. Even the slum dwellers are affected.

The rent of a single room at a slum is not less than Tk 2,000 a month, which was just Tk 1,000 a year ago.

A typical middle class family of five using three bedrooms has to spend at least Tk 12,000 per month in the city's rather "cheaper" areas like Mirpur, Mohammadpur and Khilgaon. The rent for such a house used to be Tk 3000 only three years back.

If you want to live in "better" places like Uttara and DOHS, be prepared to spend Tk 18,00 to 25,00 for a three-room flat.

According to a recent study by the Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB), house rent in the city has increased by an average of about 15 percent annually for the past 10 years, far outpacing the tenants' income.

Owners cite hike in the prices of land, construction materials, utility services and burden of bank loans they take for building the houses in support of rent hike.

Tenants complain that many owners also charge an extra amount of Tk 1,000 to 10,000 in the name of services and parking facilities even in modest residential areas.

Rashedul Hasan, who lives in a two-bed flat at Pachim Shewrapara, said he rented the house for Tk 6,000 a month in October last year. In just one month, the owner added a monthly water bill of Tk 300 to the rent.

Three months later, the owner asked Rashedul to pay an additional Tk 1,000 per month citing hike in the prices of power, gas and essential commodities.

The tenants of the building never argued with the owner fearing he may ask them to leave, Rashedul said.

The exorbitant house rent is forcing many city dwellers to send their families back home.

Consider the case of Abul Hossain, a private company employee.

“I have sent my family back to my village home as I can't pay the exorbitant house rent,” said Abul, who earns Tk 17,500 a month. “I need at least Tk 25,000 to run my family of five members if I keep them in Dhaka. A large chunk of my income is spent on house rent.”

He said the owner last month increased the rent for his Tk 6,000-house by Tk 1,000 at Mirpur Section-12 prompting him to send his family back to his village home in Meherpur district.

A tenant of a 1,000-square-foot flat at Bashiruddin Road in Kalabagan said his house owner first increased the rent by Tk 2,000 from Tk 11,000 but just after one month he again increased it by another Tk 2,000.

"When I protested the owner replied that you can leave if you want," he said.

Meher Akhtar, a housemaid in Mipur-12 area, said she earns only Tk 3,000 a month, but she has to spend Tk 800 for sharing a slum room in the area with another woman.

“It is very tough for me to take care of my family, including my mother and daughter, with Tk 2,200 I'm left with,” she said.

Shawkat Hossain, a house owner in Mirpur-12 area, said he has recently increased the rent for his building because he has to pay the bank Tk 40,000 every month in loan repayment.

He said the cost of building a house has increased sharply. Building a six-storey house on a 1.75 katha plot would cost Tk 40 lakh 10 years ago, and it now takes Tk 70 to 80 lakh.

The authorities are silent spectators as the chaos in the city's house rent batters the tenants.

Dhaka City Corporation prepared an area-based house rent chart in 2003 but it is not applied to compel the landlords to fix rent according to the chart.

"We just use the chart to fix the holding tax of a building. But we don't really compel landlords to apply it," admitted a DCC official, wishing anonymity.

According to the chart, the rent of an 850-square--foot house would be Tk 5,525. In reality, a house of this size at Mirpur Block-A is being rented for up to Tk 15,000.

Dhaka Bhariatia Unnayan Society is pressing the DCC to formulate a new area-based rent chart and implement it, President of the society Mohammad Alamgir Hossain said.

The society also demands that a separate commission for tenants is formed to take complaints and settle disputes with landlords.

Many landlords in the capital avoid signing any rent agreement with tenants although it is mandated by the House Rent Control Act 1991.

Even if an agreement is signed, the owners usually keep the original copies with them. Should a dispute arises, the court does not accept the photocopies of the contract, according to several tenants.

In most cases, the owners even do not give any rent receipts to the tenants presumably to avoid tax and other legal obligations.

Many house owners are also taking advance payment of more than one month's rent, which also is illegal, they said.

It's the owners' world as there are far few houses up for rent than the demand. Lax application of law also helps the owners to fix the rent and hike it at their choice.

The law says owners and tenants must sign house rent contracts, owners will have to give tenants rent receipts and advance payment of rent is permitted only for a month. In spite of the provisions for penalties, the law is ignored and in mostly violated by the owners.

In most cases, contracts are verbal, rent receipts are not given, rent is increased at the will of the owners, and eviction notices come at their whims.

The government, meanwhile, remains a silent spectator.

The authorities are not taking steps to implement the law, said CAB President a Kazi Faruk.

He said about 90 percent of the city's tenants have no idea about the laws and rules on house rent. This lack of awareness often lands tenants in trouble and make them losers, he said.

Manzill Murshid, president of Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB), said tenants are reluctant to go to the rent controller's office fearing the owners who are powerful and many of them share their buildings with tenants or live in the same area.

Lengthy legal procedures also discourage tenants to start a legal battle with the owners, he said.

The House Rent Control Act 1991 has some provisions to protect the rights of the tenants. But those are hardly implemented.

The law says tenants can take their disputes with owners to the controller's office where a senior assistant judge acts as rent controller.

The owners can increase house rent only at a standard rate.

If the rent is hiked abnormally, a landlord can be fined to pay double the amount taken from the tenant.

According to the Act, a standard rent hike will be fixed through negotiations between the owner and the tenant or by the rent controller in case of a dispute. The rent will be reviewed every two years.

The Act also provides for penalty of paying double the money the owners will take in case of not giving printed rent receipts to the tenants.

Under the law, the owners can take only one month's rent in advance. Violation of this provision means they will have to pay double the money in fine.

Most of the house owners do not make contacts with the tenants, and in many cases take four to five months' rent in advance.

A tenant shall not be evicted from the rented house if the tenant pays agreed rent, the act mentioned.

Though the tenants are being deprived of their rights over the years, they are reluctant to go to the court as most of them are not aware of the laws to protect their interest.

Only 102 cases were filed with two assistant judges' courts (who act as rent controllers) covering Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Dhanmondi, Hazaribagh, New Market, Tejgaon, Gulshan, Uttara and Cantonment till May 24. The number was 131 last year.

President of HRPB Manzill Murshid said they filed a writ petition with the High Court on June in 2009 seeking directives to make the rent control act effective.

Manzill said the writ petition also sought directives to the authorities to fix area-based house rent.

Contacted, DCC Mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka said DCC does not control house rent.

The DCC rent chart is for assessing holding taxes only, an official said.

News Source: 
The Daily Star