The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has ordered the Thimphu Thromde to submit a comprehensive report on “exorbitant” increase in rent of automobile workshops by landlords in Olarongchhu and on why it returned pooled land to landowners.

An investigation to the allegation will be determined by the report. “We are yet to receive the report that can determine whether it merits for investigation or not,” an ACC official said.

Five executive members representing the Automobile Sector Association of Bhutan (ASAB) appealed to the ACC’s chairperson last October after both the landowners and Thimphu thromde “lent a deaf ear” to workshop operators’ outcry over the unlawful and exorbitant rent hike and issuing eviction notices.

The workshop owners claimed that they have been appealing to the landowners since 2012 to abide by the Tenancy Act of Bhutan 2015.

How it all happened?

The letter to the ACC stated that in 2008, the monthly house rent was fixed at Nu 60,000 for large workshop, Nu 30,000 for medium and Nu 20,000 for small workshop. The landlords, mostly from Olakha and Babesa, however, kept on increasing high rent which was not in line with the provisions of the Tenancy Act.

The landlords claimed that rent was increased due to high percentage of land pooling which was about 56.58 percent taken by the Thromde, apart from land taxes and loan interests they had to pay. ASAB stated that the landlords increased the rent from Nu 60,000 to Nu 80,000 in 2012 and Nu 170,000 in 2017 for large workshop, Nu 30,000 to Nu 44,000 in 2012 and Nu 80,000 – Nu 90,000 in 2017 for medium workshop and Nu 20,000 to Nu 60,000 in 2017.

They stated that the hike was far above the 10 percent allowed by the Act every two years. “Regardless of such enormous increase since May 2017, the house owners issued eviction notices within a short period of three months,” the letter sated. The reason provided by the building owners for eviction is that they wanted to either renovate/reconstruct new workshop buildings on the excess land they received from thromde.

“Such unregulated increase in rent and lease tenure is placing the security and the survivability of the automobile business at risk,” the letter stated.

Workshop operators in 2018 sought the help of thromde and ministry of works and human settlement (MoWHS) for immediate intervention on the rent hike.

Conflict of interest?

The MoWHS on March 8 last year wrote to the Thrompon requesting Thimphu Thromde’s tenancy dispute settlement committee (TDSC) to look at ASAB’s grievances.

The Tenancy Act mandates respective thromdes to adjudicate and resolve any tenancy related issue falling within Thromde’s jurisdiction.

Accordingly, a five-member committee of TDSC heard and decided about a dozen of cases involving both parties- landlords and workshop operators. According to the aggrieved parties, the TDSC had taken decision in favor of building owners, who are mostly from Babesa. “There was conflict of interest,” two workshop operators who appealed to the Thimphu dzongkhag court against the TDSC’s decision told Kuensel.

Refuting allegations, TDSC’s member and Thromde’s legal officer, Ugyen Dorji, said that the decisions were taken in the interest of both parties as per the provisions of Tenancy Act. TDSC, which comprises of five members chaired by Thrompon, established that the building owners issued eviction notices to the workshop operators as per the agreement signed for rental and land lease under chapter 8 (a) and (b).

Section 75, 76 and 77 of the Tenancy Act allows owner to issue notice on rental unit if he wishes to discontinue the tenant at the end of the tenancy, and he has the right to reacquire the rental unit for his own occupation during the subsistence of tenancy for which the owner may exercise that right by serving the tenant a written notice of two months in advance.

The owner also has the right to evict tenants if rent has been not paid for two preceding months, the tenant refuses to vacate after the expiry or termination of the tenancy, does not comply with the terms and conditions of the agreement or if the tenant creates nuisance to other tenants or carries out any dangerous activities.

“Our ruling also stated that an aggrieved party can appeal to the court within 10 days if he or she is not satisfied with the decision of TDSC,” Ugyen Dorji told Kuensel. “There is no question of conflict of interest,” he said.

About 11 workshop owners appealed to the court for judicial intervention.

Owners refute allegations

Building owners said that they issued eviction notices to workshop owners for breaching rental agreement executed as per the Tenancy Act and not paying rent on time. They also alleged that some workshop owners also sublet their rental units to others and constructed additional structures without the notice of the landowners.

One owner said that the workshop operator has leased the building to another operator without even informing him. “They built new structures in the little space and rented it out. This has affected us in getting our lagthrams,” he said. Owners also said operators never paid the rent on time.” Sometimes they pay one month’s rent in three months. We have loans to repay.”

On the breach of rental agreement, one owner said that it was the operators who proposed rent hike, drew up agreement and set the conditions. “They were the ones who came to us with the conditions that we all signed,” he said.

Issues on excess land pooling

ASAB requested the ACC to look into the excess land pooling returned to a few landowners. “We failed to understand why the pooled land, as per the land pooling agreement, has been returned to few vote-bearing landowners by the thromde,” ASAB stated. “Once the land has been pooled, it has to be used for public benefit services and structures.”

They stated that the former prime minister during his visit to the workshop area in 2016 assured them that the land contributed towards land pooling would be used for constructing ECCD for children of workshop employers and employees, a new BHU and parking for vehicles visiting the workshops.

“We came to know that workshop landowners who have benefitted from the land they received are related to the Thrompon and the legal officer,” the ASAB’s letter stated.

They requested to investigate the issue.

Rinzin Wangchuk