With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to cause chaos and instability in the country, the state government Friday took steps to protect tenants and other home renters affected by the lockdown. The state has issued instructions to all landlords and house owners to ensure no renter, in either government or private accommodations, is forced out of their house for at least three months.
Contending that the unprecedented shutdown had left tenants in extremely vulnerable situation, the state’s housing department has further instructed all house owners to postpone rent collection for at least three months.
“A sizeable percentage of people reside in rented apartments in the state. The coronavirus pandemic has also inflicted very difficult economic hardship on the common man. With all economic and business activities halted, several people have lost their means of livelihood, making it difficult for them to pay (rents) regularly,” said Additional Chief Secretary (Housing) Sanjay Kumar, in the department’s written communication for all home owners. “It is a fact that many have defaulted on rent payments,” he added.
When the Chief Minister’s Office later tweeted about the measure, most citizens welcomed it. There was, however, some who raised the cause of senior citizens and other individuals whose subsistence was dependent on the rents received from their homes. Some even raised the demand for compensation in such cases.
BR Bhattad, president, Property Owners Association, a representative body of landlords in Mumbai, meanwhile, asked the government to first defer collection of property tax and other municipal taxes. “Before expecting landlords to defer collections, the government should also defer tax collections. This will facilitate the move,” it said.
While welcoming the government’s measure to protect vulnerable tenants, Bhattad said several house owners themselves were dependent on rents for their own subsistence. Senior lawyer, advocate Vinod Sampat, echoed Bhat-tad’s concern. “How would the la-ndlords pay maintenance charges and property taxes in respect of licensed flats? Societies charge up to 21 per cent interest for delayed payments of maintenance charges. Who will bear the interest burden? There is no clarity on whether the landlords can charge interest for delayed rent payments. This will only lead to a rift between the owners and the tenants, resulting in litigations. A better solution at the moment is to ask the landlords and the tenants to arrive at a mutual understanding regarding the payment schedule,” said Sampat. “Many apartment owners depend on their rents to pay home loan installments. Banks are still charging interest on loan amounts even if the moratorium clause is opted for.”
But senior officials, when asked, said the instructions were of re-commendatory nature. “In times such as these, it is important to ensure that nobody is rendered homeless,” they said.
It was also pointed out that legislations have been formulated in some developed countries requiring landlords to withhold rent collections, and barring them from evicting anyone. In some parts of the world, activists have raised a call from collectively withholding rents or going on a “mass rent strikes”.
Earlier on March 28, the Union Ministry of Housing Affairs, had cited similar concerns to orders landlords of properties occupied by migrant labourers and students to defer rent collections for a month and not undertake any eviction.
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