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Rent: Pema Lhamo, 47, waits for her children to return from school in her rented apartment. Like other tenants, she has one constant nagging worry: the rent.

She is worried the inflated rent her family pays today will increase. “We have been informed it will increase anytime,” she said.

Pema Lhamo lives in the town with her two school-going children and her husband. Her husband is a small-time contractor and is the family’s only bread earner.

Likewise, Tashi, a businesswoman, is also expecting her rent of Nu 14,000 per month to increase any day. “It is not even been two years since I rented this house,” she said. “Those who cannot afford the increase may have to vacate the flats.”

Most tenants do not have lease agreements with their landlords. This is because either tenants are not aware that lease agreements can be made or landlords are not willing to sign such agreements.

A few tenants dare not ask for an agreement fearing they would lose the apartment.

Even if an agreement was signed, it would only have some details like the amount of rent and security deposit, Kuensel has found. The Tenancy Act has no bearing.

Rents are soaring in the outskirts of the town like in Kabreytar, Dhamdara, and Pipal Dara. Although some landlords charge, what are accepted as reasonable rents of between Nu 8,000 and Nu 10,000, there are some that ask for up to Nu 15,000/month.

Yangzom and her family, who rent an apartment in Kabreytar, are also expecting the rent to increase by another Nu 1,000. The rent has already increased by Nu 1,000 since they moved in about a year ago.

But there are also tenants who share good stories. A shopkeeper in Kabreytar, Amibka Chhetri said the owner of her apartment has not raised the rent for more than four years. Her family pays Nu 6,000/month.

“People come to ask if there are any empty flats in this building,” she said, adding that not a single tenant in the building has vacated in the last four years.

Ambika Chhetri said her landlord, who is from Tsimasham is a “kind and lenient” person. She pointed out that a tenant only recently managed to pay the entire last year’s rent in bulk, which was fine with the landlord.

Those who are aware of the Tenancy Act do tend to ask their landlords if an agreement can be signed but some tenants choose not to.

Sonam Penjore, a landlord, said that most landlords do not sign lease agreements today. “Tenants also do not bother,” he said.

He said many tenants today suffer because some landlords or home owners want quick returns.

There are businessmen from across the border who can afford to pay higher rents, which drives landlords to increase their rents.

But in some cases, home owners have genuine reasons. Sonam Penjore said some owners face difficulties with the financial institutions from whom they’ve availed loans and so have no choice but to keep hiking their rents.

However, the majority of tenants, he acknowledged, are suffering unreasonable raises in rents.

The thromde’s role

There is no system in place or a designated agency that monitors rent. Although the thromde does look into cases brought to it, it does not monitor rent increases.

Thromde officials do attempt to resolve issues between tenants and landlords but If the case cannot be solved, it is forwarded to court.

However, the thromde only intervenes when an agreement exists between landlord and tenant.

Unlike government quarters or commercial spaces, thromde officials said they cannot intervene since it is the private sector.

Commercial spaces

Rents for commercial spaces in the town have also soared. Most existing spaces are occupied by “fronting” shops offering higher rents.

In the heart of the town, the rent of a restaurant has just been increased without any advance notice. The owner of the restaurant was not willing to be named because she feared being evicted.

She said the landlord was not willing to sign a lease agreement and had threatened to evict her when she asked for receipts.

“This increase has affected my sales and I have increased the rates,” she said. She has also been disallowed by the landlord from selling her restaurant. “It is high time relevant agencies look into the matter,” she said.

Another businessman, who also did not want to be named, said the situation is bad. “If house owners charge such exorbitant rents, the youth will be discouraged from doing business,” he said.

The businessman pays Nu 20,000 a month today. The rent was Nu 7,000 in 2008.

Jaigaon

Given the high rents and limited apartments, many Bhutanese today reside in Jaigaon.

Records show 1,754 families, or as many as 5,600 Bhutanese live in Jaigaon today. Most of them fall under the low income group.

High interest rates charged by the financial institutions is another reason why the rents have soared.

With the recent slash in the interest rates by all financial institutions, people in Phuentsholing are hoping rents will also eventually drop.

The head of the Druk PNB branch in Phuentsholing, AB Rai, said that rents would not come down immediately after the decrease in interest rates. “It can happen only in the longer duration.”

AB Rai said the rents would fall only when people take more housing loans to build more houses. There is a huge gap in supply and demand at the moment, he said.

Meanwhile, inside her dark apartment, Pema Lhamo explained that her family paid Nu 7,000/month in 2012. The rent was increased to Nu 8,000 in 2014. To their shock, the rent was again increased to Nu 12,000 that same year.

This year the rent was hiked to Nu 14,000.

All Pema Lhamo can do is wait for the next increase. It could happen any day.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

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