January is approaching again, sending especially the middle and low income tenants of residential quarters on their toes as the New Year usually brings them additional financial burden on account of house rent.
Like every year, owners would likely raise house rent from day one of 2015, often without strong reasons for this. The country has a rent control law that has remained largely ineffective and comes to no help to the cash stretched citizens.
According to rough estimates, 40 percent of Dhaka urban residents live in slums, another 40 per cent in rented houses and the rest live in their own buildings or apartments.
The second category is the most disadvantaged group who can neither afford the continually rising rent nor can lower their standard of living - in which a rented living quarter is essential.
Rents sometimes go abnormally high in close perimeter of educational institutions - a situation further driven by nasty traffic jam on roads in the capital and other big cities.
"We are just getting alarmed as yet another time for house rent increase is closing in," said Shahadat Hossain a government employee. He needs a three-room quarter for his five-member family, not far from a school where his only daughter studies. Shahadat already pays Tk 20,000 as rent per month but the owner has given early hint that the rent would rise by at least 20 per cent from January 1.
"This will be another stab on my stretched income," said the man without disclosing his monthly earning.
However, it is needless to say house rent often claims half of a man's income and another big portion of the remaining fund is spent on tuition of the children and medicines.
House owners, however, have their own reasons for hiking rents. In many houses the owner bears the cost of electricity, water and security. "We are also scared that prices of all utilities including gas will be raised substantially from January next. Who will pay for these?" said Rakibul Haque, who owns two apartments in the capital's Bashabo area.
Rakibul earns around Tk 20,000 working for a real estate and housing development company while his wife adds a similar amount by serving at a private outsourcing company.
But still they face a hard bargain to meet all the expenses of his four-member family, having two school-going sons.
Various political and social organisations have been persistently demanding an effective rent control law. But they override their own demand if they are house owners. This is a common paradox in our society, said Ashikur Rahman, a private banker.
The Chief Revenue Officer of Dhaka North City Corporation Momtazuddin said "City Corporation has the right to realise taxes of house holdings. But it has no role to control house rent." In addition to realising taxes DCC should have the power to control house rent, he said.
The rent control law was made in 1991, which says that no security deposit can be claimed from the tenants. Not more than one month's rent can be taken as advance. Rent receipt will have to be given every month. But house-owners do not care for the rules. So to say there is no law. The law is not applied.
House-owners say, "We have to increase house rent because of abnormal price-rise of essentials, increase of interest on house building loan and increase of gas and electricity prices."
Any law relevant to house and house rent should address concerns of the owners, tenants and the authorities. An inhabitant of Mirpur Ward 2, social worker Abdul Baset said, "The rent of a two-room flat in this area ranges between Tk 12,000 and 15,000 and house-owners whimsically raise house rent at any time throwing us into difficulty."
President of Dhaka Tenants Development Society, M Alamgir said, "The rent for a double-room apartment in Mirpur Ward-2 should be no more than Tk 8,000 a month, but owners realise Tk 13,000. In rent control law it has been mentioned that the government can appoint rent controller to fix rent and solve all other problems about it."
But such laws may not become effective or bear results due to widespread corruption sweeping the country and rent controllers are not expected to be different.
At the moment five to six assistant judges have been given the additional responsibility to work as controller of house rents. But common people do not know this.
Therefore, the number of solution seekers from rent controllers is negligible. Although house rent agreement is supposed to be in writing compulsorily as per law this rule is obeyed verbally in most cases. This is why despite having willingness tenants cannot take recourse to law.
Human rights activist Advocate Elina Khan said, "The matter of house rent increase is one of the major problems of Dhaka city. There is a law for house rent control but that is not being applied."
She said told the Daily Observer that "House rent deed between the owner and tenant is very important. But in order to dodge taxes the house-owners do not make the deed. So it becomes difficult for the government to ascertain which house's rent is how much."