By Ben Garcia
KUWAIT: The 10th of every month is the deadline for paying rent for many tenants. But many expatriates nowadays say they can no longer afford to pay the rent, as many workers have been out of work without pay during the past three months. “How can I pay? I was not working for the last three months. Then a few days ago, I received very depressing news from my company – I was fired from the job,” said Marlon, 35, who works as a restaurant supervisor in Kuwait City.
“The flat owner is reminding me to pay, without any discount. Where will I get the money? Who will hire me now? We are still amid the pandemic and companies are closed. I am in a state of anxiety now and am praying to God that I will be able to overcome this,” Marlon said.
There have been recent moves to exempt businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak from paying rent throughout the crisis. But it stops short on requiring building owners to provide a reprieve of payments for tenants. The National Assembly’s legal committee last week approved amendments to the rent law stipulating that landlords will not be able to evict their apartments if tenants fail to pay the rents during shutdowns. It only states in the amendment that a court will decide the way such tenants would pay the unpaid rent, mostly in installments.
“I hope the Kuwaiti government will be able to help us with regards to rent, so we are be able to overcome the effect of the global crisis. We are not asking them to make our stay free in Kuwait, but at least come up with a mechanism to support us in the next few months so we are able to survive,” he added. “We are in very bad shape, and we need some support. Going back to our country is not really the choice now, because they too have troubles.”
Marlon has two children in the Philippines with his wife. His company recently emailed him saying his service is no longer required, as they are planning to close the business. He has been given three months to look for a new job or his iqama will be cancelled. “if I am able to get a new offer during the next three months, I’ll stay, or I will go back home,” he said.
Kuwait has been under lockdown since March, with a full curfew for 20 days in May and most businesses shuttered for the last two months. It has now entered a phased reopening and some businesses including food delivery services, car mechanics, restaurants and others have reopened. But salons, malls, taxis and other businesses remain closed, and hundreds of thousands of expatriates are out of work and without a salary or income.
Vilma Dela Rosa, 57, who lives in Kuwait City, pays rent on time, but for the first time, her monthly payment is now overdue. “I normally pay my house rent between the first and fifth day of the month. Today is the 9th but I have no money to pay, so I told my flat owner I will not be able to pay. She told me OK for now. However, if the haris asks for it, we’ll have to do something and pay,” she said.
“So I’ve been thinking of borrowing from a loan shark. That is the only way, because my company said they have no money at all. I tried earlier to borrow from them, but they said they cannot spare anything,” she said. Vilma said her company will probably open by the end of June. “We don’t know yet. My last salary was in April – they gave it full even though we were no longer working at that time, but we were informed that for May and June, we will not get any salary at all,” she said.
Safi, an Indian tenant in Mangaf in his mid-40s, said his building owner told them to pay the full rent for May and June. “I am a taxi driver and till now, there is no work for me. I explained to him we cannot pay the May and June rent because we have no work, but he insisted and told us if we do not pay, we will be evicted. We were informed last Friday, so we need to give the money. Our deadline is mid-June for the May rent and the same deadline for next month. I am looking for money so I can pay,” he told Kuwait Times.
At half rent
Emie rents several apartments in Mahboula and then sublets them to fellow nationals. She is thankful to the building owner because most of the flats she’s renting are at half rent for four months. “Since March we were told to pay only half of the rent,” said Emie, a salon worker who rents seven flats. Many low-income expats share rental accommodations in order to lower the cost of living. Sub-renting flats without the owner’s permission is illegal however.
“I am very thankful to the building owner because he knows the situation of many tenants. Many of them are trapped without work or pay, so we cannot do anything. Thank God, my building owner, who is a Kuwaiti, told us to pay only half the rent. Some of my tenants are able to pay because they still get a salary, but the majority of my tenants could not pay anymore. I told my Kuwaiti flat owner to give us some time to pay, so he said pay when you have the money. So the pressure is less now,” Emie said.
Subletting flats provides Emie additional income. “My income from subletting flats ranges from KD 60 to KD 100 per flat. But if you are the flat owner, you have to provide everything, from water filters to fridge to cooking range and washing machine. I do not want a flat, but the Kuwaiti owner insisted to take the flat and sublet it. Now I have extra income plus my salon job,” she said.