As the coronavirus pandemic is racing around with no sign of stopping anytime soon and new localities go under lockdowns, searching for new accommodation or shifting house has become very difficult
The beginning of a month sees new "to-let" notices pasted or hung on walls along busy alleys. Every month, some apartment renters move their residences, and new ones fill the gap.
But what is happening now?
When a curious mind now looks at such posters, he or she can notice that the message remains the same: "To-let; 2 bedrooms – one with an attached bath; one dining-cum drawing-room; one kitchen and a balcony; address… contact…" But the month – from when the apartment will be available for rent – has been corrected more than once.
Have the apartments remained vacant for months? If so, then why?
Salauddin Ahmed, a landlord owning four apartments at Monipuripara in Farmgate, said, "My three apartments have remained vacant since April. The previous tenants had shifted to cheaper places, and no new renter has come yet."
The rent for a single apartment Salauddin owns is Tk25,000, excluding service charges. The landlord has never gone through such a crisis of renters.
As the coronavirus pandemic is racing around with no sign of stopping anytime soon and new localities go under lockdowns, searching for new accommodation or shifting houses has become very difficult. The internal cause is that many tenants under the spectre of losing employment cannot afford to rent costly accommodation anymore.
Runika Parveen, a landlady who manages 13 apartments at Rupnagar in Mirpur, said four of her apartments had remained vacant for the last three months. And some of the current renters in the remaining apartments had informed her that they would move elsewhere in July. Some others are delaying rent payments.
"One of the renters, a madrasa principal, left my apartment in May after he failed to run the religious school with neither any student nor donation. This month, he has shifted to a classroom of the madrassa with his family members," Runika said.
The landlady told The Business Standard that she owed Tk30 lakh as part of a bank loan and had to pay Tk90,000 as an instalment every month. Runika is now worried about paying back the loan as she has been losing renters and rents.
Several landlords in Farmgate, Khilgaon and Jhigatola told The Business Standard that they had been walloped by the coronavirus. Some of them are entirely dependent on house rents, while others are worried about the repayment of bank loans.
They all demanded that the government support them in getting out of the difficult situation.
Are landlords victims of the pandemic?
Economists said at the moment, landlords are not among the most vulnerable ones owing to the three-month shutdown.
Tanvir Sobhan, a faculty member of the department of economics and social sciences at Brac University, said usually a landlord took two months' house rents in advance from tenants.
"In the pandemic-induced humanitarian crisis, solvent people should not calculate instant benefits or losses. We should be concerned about the renters suffering from an acute economic crisis," he said.
Preferring to be unnamed, a tenant at a Mohammadpur-based Chandrima Udyan building, complained that his landlord had sent the caretaker several times to harass him and his family members for three months' due rents.
The tenant used to work at a consultancy firm and pay his house rent regularly.
"Since April, when the firm was closed for an indefinite period, I have lost my earnings," he said.
Despite being pressed continuously for paying the due, the 30-year-old man cannot move to any cheaper accommodation.
"My elderly parents, wife and younger brother live with me. All of a sudden, I have lost my job. I cannot arrange advance rent for a new house. There is also uncertainty about my future employment. So, I cannot shift to another place," he said, adding that if there had been an option, the family would go to their village home in Khulna.
Most of his neighbouring tenants have already shifted to other places. He added,
"There are still five or six families who cannot pay their house rents. The landlord has said the tenants will have to pay all the unpaid house rents and utility bills someday."
He said there should be an option for paying the dues in instalments.
Research institutes have painted the picture of a bleak economy coming in the near future. While the plight of the vulnerable groups is evident, it will take time to calculate the actual losses of the landlords.
Tanvir requested that both landlords and renters maintain a good understanding among them to deal with the ongoing crisis.
Online-based rental business sees a different picture
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the online-based apartment rental business goes on without many difficulties.
Mahzabin Chowdhury, Bproperty's marketing and public relations manager, said, "Everyone needs a place to stay – be it for themselves or their businesses. Bproperty is still busy dealing with customers looking for new homes."
Bproperty, the country's single largest online-based real estate and rental property business operator, is currently managing over 30,000 apartment rental projects – both residential and commercial housing, mostly in Dhaka.
Mahzabin said the countrywide shutdown had hardly had any negative impact on Bproperty.
"Inquiries still come in daily, and our experts are always positive about their requirements. Our systems in place allow for safe viewing and processing. Our regular posts and videos are building confidence among our viewers that safe practices can be applied in the real estate scene to push on with their real estate needs," Mahzabin said.