Rent burden and charity

Shakir Reshamwala

A couple of days ago when I returned from work, I saw a notice from the landlord pasted on the wall near the elevators of the building where I live. It said due to the current situation, tenants of the building have been granted a discount of KD 50 on the rent due for the month of April. This was good news, although some people I know had their rent completely waived for April, while messages circulating online say some real estate companies have waived the rent for the next three months.
Residents of many buildings have been encouraged by these reports and have petitioned their landlords to relieve them of their dues. My neighbor too called me to tell me that although the KD 50 discount was a good gesture, the landlord had earlier promised a tenant that he would waive 50 percent of the rent, so residents of the building will now collectively ask him to completely waive the rent for this month. He added if the landlord doesn’t agree, we will settle for the 50 percent discount.
Other landlords though have not been so generous – a colleague said her landlord refused outright to provide any rent relief, retorting that he wasn’t running a charity. One can understand that landlords have a lot of overheads – loan repayments, maintenance, electricity and water charges (if included in the rent), salaries of the haris and cleaners, etc. But these expenses make up a small portion of the rental value, and now that banks have agreed to defer loan repayments for six months, landlords and real estate companies can afford to waive the rent or collect a nominal amount to cover their expenses.
The scale and destruction wrought by the coronavirus outbreak is unprecedented in modern history, with nearly every country affected. Nearly all commercial flights have been grounded, and economies have ground to a halt. Millions have been left jobless or without pay, with no end in sight to this global scourge. Kuwait is a microcosm of what is happening around the world and is no exception.
For many people who haven’t been paid yet or won’t be paid, the new month has brought a lot of new worries. So although it may seem opportunistic for those who have received full salaries in March to ask for rent relief, my neighbor reasoned that these people may get partial or no salaries at the end of April, which is a possibility given the lengthy shutdown, and it is wise to hold on to the money. This seems like a valid argument, as the future is uncertain, and layoffs are likely.
At the end of it all, we will look back at the coronavirus pandemic – if we live to tell the tale – as a surreal, dystopian era that brought out the best and worst in us. If we cannot control what is happening around us, the least we can do is behave responsibly and charitably, which means staying at home, following instructions, refraining from panic buying and hoarding, and if we happen to be landlords, reducing or waiving the rent. Spreading cheer – and not the virus or worries – is the need of the hour.

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