Tenants in despair, hope for rent waivers

Tshering Palden  

Besides the Covid-19 virus, many residents, mainly those running small businesses or private sector employees, in urban areas across the country are faced with a major problem which they say is more pressing than the pandemic.

Many businesses continue to remain shut. Economic activities have come to a halt since the government declared lockdown on August 11.

Some residents in Phuentsholing, which is a red zone and has new cases almost every day, were served notice to pay their rent already.

With no end in sight for the lockdown, a grocer in town said he was worried about meeting the basic needs of his family. For now, paying the rent is bugging him.

Bir Bahadur Tamang who runs a pharmacy shop in Gelephu town said it was difficult to earn even a few thousand despite having a permit to open his shop twice a week.

“I won’t be able to afford the rent this time for sure. Hardly any customer came to buy medicine,” he said.

Bir Bahadur Tamang and the tenants of the same building, who are running small businesses, received a one-time rent waiver of Nu 1,500 to date.

“It’s been quite sometime after the government announced a loan waiver. But it’s unfair to see that we are not able to get the benefit from the Kidu,” he said.

He will have to pay a rent of Nu 10,000 for the pharmacy shop and another Nu 5,000 as rent for the apartment where his family lives.

But his income this month is only Nu 8,000.

He said that the lockdown was an important measure put in place to combat the outbreak.

“But, it’s difficult when the benefit of the government’s initiative is not reaching us,” he said.

With a huge drop in businesses, private and corporate companies are also strategising how to minimise costs including cutting the salary of employees. Some are already on half salary. Others are drawing up more desperate measures as lockdown continues.

A shopkeeper in Samdrupjongkhar town, Namgay has similar concerns about paying rent for two spaces but without income. “Shop is the main source of income for me.”

“Although some homeowners have to pay loans, it would help if they could waive a small portion of the rent because I have to pay about Nu 100,000 a month for my apartment and shop,” Namgay said.

Lhamo, 35, from Pemagatshel, said that she would not be able to pay rent this month and the landlord has not indicated any discount in the rent.

“I don’t have other alternative sources of income and also have to look after my poor parents in the village.”

With restricted movement, cab drivers in the country are left with no income. Most have volunteered with the Bhutan Red Cross Society to help in Covid-19 response.

It has been more than two weeks for Karma Phuntsho, a taxi driver from Satsham in Paro without any income.

He is worried about the payment of rent and other dues, as his saving has already exhausted.  “If the lockdown extends, I am worried.” His house owner hasn’t reduced the rent so far.

A young woman opened a restaurant in Paro after returning from the Middle East recently. Two weeks later, the nationwide lockdown shut her business. She is hoping for a rent waiver from the building owner.

Having invested all her savings in setting up the restaurant, she said that she was already running into loss.

She said that she would have to leave the restaurant if there was no reduction, as there was no business at all.

However, some landlords have waived the rents by certain percentage starting March. Pema from Lamgong said that her landlord reduced the rent to Nu 8,000 from Nu 12,000.

Meanwhile, a house owner, Sangay said that her family’s only source of income was the rent. “It is difficult during lockdown for my family as well.” She said that the rent took care of the family’s grocery and bills.

 

Additional reporting from Phub Dem, Nima, and Kelzang Wangchuk 

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