The debacle of house rents and the government’s role

Shawkat Ali | Published: 00:00, Jul 19,2020

House rents,

On July 9, 2020, members of Bangladesh Students’ Federation organised a protest in front of the education ministry. Some of their demands were waiving mess-fees for the students and government measures to address the loss of the landlords. — Brishti

Media reports have shown that thousands of families are leaving Dhaka in a desperate attempt to cut down on the costs during the crisis period. House rents are a major concern for them as the rents can take up to half of the earning of a person. Shawkat Ali talks about the debacle of house rents and government’s unwillingness to address the issue

HOUSE rents are a complex issue in the urban settlements of Bangladesh for a long time. Tenants have been complaining about the excessive house rents and illogical increase in rents with no visible solution. Premises Rent Control Act 1991 and Premises Rent Control Ordinance 1963 are at place but there are no implementations.

Even more, the house rent controller’s posts have been vacant. The responsibility of this post is to take the complaints of the tenants into consideration and set a logical rent.

A substantial amount of metropolitan or city-corporation authorities’ incomes are generated from holding taxes. For this reasons, city corporations are constitutionally bound to resolve the matters between tenants and landlords. In the political reality of Bangladesh, nothing can happen without the permission of the central government but city corporations cannot ignore their duty.

Involving all the concerned authorities and their joint efforts could be a way to the permanent solution of the complexities around house rents.

The current pandemic situation has made the entire scenario even more complex. Economic marginalised tenants, small business owners and daily labourers are at a dialectic situation with the landlords. On the one hand, tenants are suffering and on the other hand, the relationships between these two groups are experiencing increasing doubt and lack of trust.

A number of mayors have publicly urged the landlords to be humane towards the tenants and waive portion of the rents. This is also true that there are stories of landlords who have stood beside their tenants and helped them as much as possible. However, during a pandemic or any emergency situation, it is the government’s and the state’s responsibility to take care of the citizens.

A tenant not only has to bear the rent but also water, gas and electricity bills. Does the government waive any of these utilities? Contrary to that, the government has cheated the taxpayers as the utility companies are now forcing the people to pay three month’s utility at once. On top of that, irregularities in the government relief funds are widely reported in the media.

This government is not taking the responsibility of the citizens even during such grim time and is letting the situation get out of control, so it does not have any legitimacy to ask the citizens to be more humane. In fact, the government’s urgency is nothing but eyewash.

The workers in the industrials areas like Dhaka and Chittagong are some of the worst hit population, especially the apparel industry workers. According to the media, hundreds of thousands of people have already left Dhaka and more are on the queue. The major reason for this is losing jobs and inability to pay the house rents.

The government’s incentive of Tk 5000 crore soft loan to the apparel industries was unable to save the jobs of the workers. Despite the government package, the owners of the industries announced huge job cuts. A testament to that is government’s closing of 26 state owned jute mills.

In the urban areas, an economic system is built around the house rents and the urban economic systems are built on the ruins of rural economy. As a consequence of this reality, people flock to the cities in search of work. When this newly established urban economic system disrupts, peoples’ personal economic ability shrunk. State comes into play in this situation. Any democratic government would take care of its citizens during such time.

So the recent complexities around the house rents are not separate events rather these are a part of the overall mismanagement. The government has always applied the classic colonial divide and rule strategy and this situation is not different as both the landlords and renters are at a head on situation.

For the inefficiency of the authorities, the laws at place to address the rent issues are not properly implemented. Landlords, in most of the cases, try to capitalise on the helplessness of the tenants. Even though, accommodation is constitutional right but a substantial number of the citizens cannot avail that right.

Government demesne can be used to house those who have lost homes due to river erosion, agricultural loan or loss of lands. Many of these people have to seek shelter on roads, railway stations thus effectively becoming homeless whereas government demesnes are controlled by the ruling class. That is why the central and local government as well as the city corporation cannot brush off its responsibility now.

Transport and hotel workers are two of the worst hit segments of the urban population. More than seven million transport workers have faced severe hurdles during the pandemic. Despite depositing regular savings in the funds of workers’ organisations, workers are not looked after by their organisations.

Besides, hotel workers are also facing serious complexities as they have lost their jobs because most of the hotels are closed. This hampers them as majority of the hotel workers find accommodation in their workplace. This is why house rent is a very urgent political question at this moment.

A couple of years ago, the government directed the city corporations to assess house rents in a new method and ditch the old method of setting rents based on the size only. Chittagong City Corporation started to implement the new assessment system but the landlords expressed severe objections. They started protesting under the banner of ‘Chittagong Tax Protection Forum’ and forced the government to halt the decision.

Any democratic government would come forward in such situation and announce a budget to address these issues. The budget should have separate funding for the accommodation of the informal sector workers. The government should also involve their agencies to ease the situation for the citizens.

Shawkat Ali is an executive member of Bangladesh Students’ Federation.

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