As the government has given a few weeks to illegal Afghan refugees to leave, many a people in the federal capital and other cities are expecting that the disturbed equilibrium of the housing market will return back to normal. But this is not likely, since the presence of refugees is not the entire or the primary reason for this new normal. The concentration of resource allocation, accumulation of wealth and acute centralization of luxuries has made the capitals of several nation-states a parking land for the rich, but difficult and at times even out of reach for an average household. The same is the case with Islamabad - the federal capital of the land of the pure. The capital city is largely populated by the people from every nook and corner of the country.
For the rich, it’s the beauty and luxury of the city that attracts them, but a large chunk relocates out of sheer economic need, security situation in their hometowns, job requirements, better education facilities and the likes. They cannot afford their own housing, hence look for rented premises. Salaried and middle-income people have been hit by an alarming surge in residential rents across Islamabad. Amid crippling inflation, it presents a haunting dilemma for them. What has transformed this basic feature of daily life in the capital city into an almost insuperable test?
An individual living in Islamabad for the past several years would obviously quote factors such as inflation and the influx of Afghan refugees since the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 2021 that has disrupted established demand-supply dynamics. But in parallel to this external stimulus, a continually fickle housing market coalesced, that hast composed this crisis. The housing market in Islamabad is sheerly unregulated by governmental controls; housing-rents don’t have a structured framework built on central strictures, such as size of the property, its condition, and its location.
As a consequence, this ambiguity is exploited by the landlords, they leverage justifications of double-digit inflation and an intensified demand due to Afghan refugee arrivals. This is how they pad their pockets unjustly. Despite some legal provisions, tenants are stuck, finding themselves cruelly crushed and sandwiched in an outwardly unresponsive local administration.
Why have rent control laws proven ineffective in safeguarding tenants’ rights?
Tenants in Islamabad are not only confronted with the challenges of exorbitant rents levied by landlords, but also equally exploited by an ineffective regulatory mechanism. Its absence facilitates circumvention of rent control laws. A DW report has shown an additional and looming threat of involuntary evictions tenants have to face due to insufficient tenure security, long-drawn legal processes for dispute settlements, and a lack of property maintenance by landlords.
Concomitantly, an amendment to the existing ordinance 2001 was introduced in 2020. It was called Islamabad Rent Restriction (Amendment) Bill that aimed at remedying the rights of tenants and landlords. The National Assembly passed it in October 2020, after that was presented in the Senate on May 31, 2021.
Landlords very often deviate from the provisions of The Islamabad Rent Restriction Ordinance that vows to ensure tenure security, fair rent, appointment of a rent controller, formation of a council for dispute resolutions and payments through cross cheques, but hardly any of these clauses is implemented. It results in unjustified hikes in rents, renunciation of proper rent receipts, and tenants are coerced to accept unwarranted increases in rents or evicted under duress. There is no rent controller, a mediating agent connects the tenant to the owner and charges 50% of the agreed-upon rent as his service charges. The only service the agent provides is connecting the tenant with the owner; he is not responsible for any discrepancies occurring later on that the tenant is not being told earlier. The agent and the owner often work hand in glove. All these examples underline a dire need for vigorous implementation mechanisms and all-inclusive improves that protect tenants’ rights and guarantee a housing environment.
Concomitantly, an amendment to the existing ordinance 2001 was introduced in 2020. It was called Islamabad Rent Restriction (Amendment) Bill that aimed at remedying the rights of tenants and landlords. The National Assembly passed it in October 2020, after that was presented in the Senate on May 31, 2021. The bill was particularly focused on issues faced by the tenants, residents and traders in Islamabad. Both the tenants and landlords have been voicing their concerns that the amendment tried to address so that a congruent framework for their relations could be established. Particularly, the amendment authorized the rent controller to formalize documentation of all agreements between the landlord and tenant. It accentuated all the payments related to the tenancy be made through cross cheques so that clarity and liability in financial transactions be fostered.
What did the amendment to the 2001 Rent Restriction Ordinance propose?
A structured method of an annual increase by 10% was proposed for residential and commercial premises except otherwise specified in written agreements. The rationale for this provision is to produce a reasonable and controlled mechanism for rent modification. It is aimed to reduce the disputes stanching from subjective hikes in rents. This is blatantly being violated by landlords at the present; notices are served by them after a tenure of a year asking for an exorbitant increase in rent, failing to do so results in forced eviction of the tenant.
A crucial aspect of the Amendment is the formation of a mediation council consisting of a member from the Chamber of Commerce and Industries, a representative from the landlord, and from the tenant. It is intended to address disputes between landlords and tenants. This council was expected to be an effective platform to resolve disputes, promoting a harmonious landlord-tenant relation. Traders, who had persistently been advocating for amendment to the 2001 Ordinance, were expecting curtailment of exploitative practices by landlords, but that has not happened yet. The law is only written, not implemented. Tenants have to choose between the slow and broken police-court system or compromise. It is more likely that they have to go for the latter.
What is hampering the implementation of The Islamabad Rent Restriction Ordinance?
Various factors hinder the effective execution of the said Ordinance. One of the chief reasons for hinderance is most of the landlords and tenants, as well as general public, is unaware of such an Ordinance in place. Hence, they simply don’t follow what rights and responsibilities they have under the Ordinance. It has developed an ethos of abuse and non-compliance. Negligible resources are allocated for enforcement and monitoring, it contributes to ineffective implementation. Additionally, effective overseeing of the housing market is hampered by shortage of skilled personals and absence of e-governance.
Observance to standardized rent increases and proper payment methods should be verified through regular audit. Furthermore, imposition of fines for disobedience deters negative behavior and urges devotion to the law.
This issue is further compounded by some other barriers to execution. Official channels are easily avoided by landlords because rental agreements and payments are not tracked. Legal ambiguities, fear and the toll of a long-drawn legal process not only deters tenants from claiming their rights, but also adds a space for falsification and prolonged disputes. Rent controllers (if there are any) confronting these challenges can lead us to non-uniform implementation and prevarication of controls.
It is imperative to consider these intricacies, strengthen implementation mechanisms, and ensure liability. Examining compliance with the Ordinance demands a stronger supervision. The government ought to appoint rent controllers and make sure that landlords register agreements with the rent controller. Observance to standardized rent increases and proper payment methods should be verified through regular audit. Furthermore, imposition of fines for disobedience deters negative behavior and urges devotion to the law.
Such measures not only safeguard the rights of tenants, but also promote a better housing market that encourages overall development of the city. Economic stability is enhanced through reasonable housing, which is done by guaranteeing that individuals with middle-income are not put-upon by excessive rents, letting them apportion reserves to other essentials. Welfare and well-being, a sense of community and social cohesion is fostered when tenants feel at home in their dwellings.
To address these challenges, comprehensive solutions are required. Advocacy for tenants’ rights, campaigns to educate tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities, and adherence to transparent processes for dispute resolutions are necessary. If ensured, all of these could minimize the need for long-drawn litigations. Notably, a collective effort is needed to solve this crisis. Government bodies are primarily responsible for the allocation of adequate resources to the departments of enforcement, building their capacity to monitor and regulate the housing market. Civil society can play a critical role in advocacy for fair housing practices and extending support to tenants confronting disputes.