The Samdrupjongkhar Thromde is yet to issue a written notice, ordering a house owner, who evicted a tenant unlawfully and violated the Tenancy Act of Bhutan 2015, to pay a penalty.

This is because the thromde’s dispute settlement committee’s chairman and deputy chairman are out of station to finalise the decision.

The committee had, however, informed the decision to the house owner and tenant who lodged the complaint verbally.

The committee imposed a fine of Nu 8,250 last Friday on a house owner after one of the tenants lodged a complaint with the committee for unlawful eviction as per the Act. The fine as per the Act is equivalent to one month’s rental charges.

The thromde’s legal officer, Tshering Chophel, assured that the decision would remain the same and it will not change because the committee found the complaint, which was lodged sometime in November 2016, was genuine.

This was the first case the thromde received after it established the dispute committee last year as per the Act. The committee is still reviewing one more case.

But there are increasing numbers of such verbal allegations from tenants against house owners for not following Tenancy Act and hiking house rents exorbitantly every year, while the Act spells out that an owner can revise  rent by only 10 percent every two years.

Tshering Chophel said tenants should inform the dispute committee if house owners are not abiding by the provisions of the Act but they hardly receive any written complaints, which is a must to review and investigate.

He said that as per chapter five of the Act, the house owner can evict the tenant if the tenant has not paid rent for two preceding months or if the tenant refuses to vacate after the expiry or termination of tenancy or doesn’t comply with the terms and conditions among many other reasons. “The owner should serve the eviction notice before three months.”

Tshering Chophel added that as per the Act, both the house owner and tenant should make sure a copy of the agreement, which is a must, should be submitted to the thromde. “But nobody follows this rule or they are not aware.”

He said that if they have an agreement, it would be easier for the tenant to complain and also for the committee to look into the issue.

The legal officer said that in the recent case, the tenant has not violated any provisions of the Act and had not even violated the agreement, which is why the committee decided to impose a fine as per Act. “There was no specific reason apart from seemingly a personal grudge, which cannot justify the reason to ask a tenant to vacate the house.”

The case has, however, besides raising awareness on the Act, raised many eyebrows.

Samdrupjongkhar residents Kuensel spoke to said they now know about the committee that looks after such grievances and know whom to approach if they face similar problems.

But with a housing crunch in a place like Samdrupjongkhar, the existence of the Tenancy Act is a mere paper tiger.

Many tenants who spoke to Kuensel, on condition of anonymity, said despite knowing what is in the Act, they don’t dare to complain since they do not have any options.

Tenants rather choose high house rents rather than be evicted.

One of the tenants working in a private office said his house owner had increased the rent by almost 50 percent yet she could not complain to anyone.

Many fear that if they complain, the owner might ask them to vacate the apartment, and that they would not be able to find another place given their reputation.

The private employee said many take advantage of the housing crunch because if tenants complain, they immediately ask tenants to leave, as there are many looking for houses.

Most residents said the thromde should conduct surprise checks on every house to make sure the Act is being followed and the committee should be proactive instead of waiting for people to complain.

Another private employee, Nidup Gyeltshen, said it was time the thromde should implement a local area plan as soon as possible and allow other land owners to construct houses, which is at present restricted, to solve the housing crunch.

Most of the house owners said they are aware about the Tenancy Act and they have been strictly following it while a few shared they increase the rent because other owners complain when they don’t.

The house owners claimed tenants refuse to pay rent citing those owners who have not increased.

Yangchen C Rinzin | Samdrupjongkhar