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Amnesty taking toll on apartment ‘sharers’

Joel from the Philippines is finally giving up his sharing apartment in Farwaniya, which he’s been renting with other Filipinos. His hand was forced after three of his sub-renters left the country during the ongoing amnesty. The interior ministry issued a decree granting a general amnesty to expatriates in Kuwait without valid visas to leave the country between Jan 29 and April 22, 2018. There were an estimated 155,000 residency violators in Kuwait in early January.

Till date, a total of 51,000 people – or 33 percent of the total undocumented residency violators – have corrected their residency status. Around 32,000 left the country without paying fines with an option to return, while 19,500 paid fines to remain in Kuwait.

That means, however, that more than 100,000 residency violators remain in the country. These people occupy a grey space in the society – illegal but often with jobs, apartments and even families here. Since they do not have valid residencies, they do not have valid civil IDs or bank accounts and cannot therefore legal rent an apartment. So many turn to apartment sharing.
Apartment sharing is technically illegal in Kuwait but still practiced by many, especially in the lower income areas of the country and among expatriates from the same nationality. In Joel’s case, his three former tenants were all residency violators who worked in small baqalas and grocery stores in Farwaniya. “Two left towards the end of February and one this month. I cannot pay the KD 320 rent by myself, so I informed the haris that I am moving this month. I have seen a new room across the street, and have informed the two of my remaining tenants to leave and look for other flats to share,” Joel told Kuwait Times.

Like most tenants, Joel complained of the high rent. “How could I continue paying the rent? It’s not easy to get new renters with decent jobs and no vices. Those people who left my flat are all good people with no issues whatsoever. We were like family here – now that they are gone, I won’t look for new renters. Instead I will give up this flat and shift to a new room,” he said.

Another family in Omariya faces a similar situation. They rented a KD 300 apartment which was shared by two Indians in one room and a single Filipino in another. The Indians availed of the amnesty and left. “I will try to pay until the end of April or even May, but if no one comes to rent my empty room, I will give up this apartment. I don’t want to work only to pay the monthly rent,” Indika told Kuwait Times.

Across Kuwait, rents are dropping due to the reduced numbers of expatriates here and the growing anti-expat sentiment in the country. The rent values of some flats have fallen by KD 10 to as much as KD 100. According to Al-Rai daily, around 53,000 flats out of a total 371,000 flats in 13,353 residential buildings are vacant. The daily quoted a recent study conducted by the Kuwait Real Estate Association, which said that around 14 percent of flats in investment residential buildings are empty.

But rent rates differ according to the area. According to a real estate broker, rent values have dropped significantly only in far-flung areas. In commercial areas, however, the rent dropped slightly or even remained the same, as most landlords refuse to lower the rent. An owner of three buildings that are mostly vacant refuses to reduce the rent – even as tenants leave his apartments for cheaper alternatives.

By Ben Garcia

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