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Online petition and FB group urge landlords to defer rent payment

MUMBAI: An online petition and a Facebook group, both calling for landlords to defer rent payments in these cash strapped times, have gained a lot of traction with Mumbaikars. Both initiatives have sought the state government’s help, seeking an order to enforce this.

“Mumbai is a city of migrants. Not just labourers, but also people like us who have come from elsewhere and made Mumbai our home,” says event manager and model Namrata Shetty, whose online group ‘No Rent India’ has got 436 members since it was started a week ago. “Many of us get paid on a project basis and since there is no work right now, we are not getting paid either. How can we pay rent?”

Tejaswini Divya Naik, a freelancer with the film industry, says: “Rent is a big part of our expenditure. People like me, who are not being able to work right now because of the coronavirus, have been exhausting our savings on rent.” Naik started a petition a week ago asking Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to ‘make a public announcement allowing deferred payment of rent’. It has already acquired 7,850 signatories.

Both Shetty and Naik’s petitions are predicated on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s recent announcement that landlords in Delhi should not take rent from properties rented out to migrant workers. “In a way, we are migrant workers too,” says Shetty.

Naik shares an apartment with two others, and they pay Rs 42,000 a month. “I initially thought I would petition only on behalf of freelancers in Mumbai. But I ended up widening the group because there are lots of people across sectors who are working in different companies or working from home, and haven’t received their salaries,” says Naik.

Like Parel (east) resident Rajesh Nehra. “The bank I work for pays my rent and this month it’s delayed. But my landlord is not ready to wait,” says Nehra, 28. “I have friends whose companies are treating this time as unpaid leave. If they have to pay rent as well, how will they survive?”

BR Bhattad, president of the Property Owners Association (POA), which has over 6,000 landlords as members, says: “Only about 10 per cent of our members are well off. The other 90 per cent depend on rent for their livelihood. Some of them are senior citizens as well.” The landlords also have to pay property tax. “Only if the BMC agrees to defer the collection of property tax by three months can we request our members to defer their tenants’ rent as well,” Bhattad adds. The POA will, however, put out an advisory for its members to consider deferment.

Merlyn Menezes feels it’s unfair to expect her to give up the rent she receives from her two paying guests. “After my husband died 15 years ago, this is my only source of income,” says Menezes, 73, who receives Rs 30,000 every month. “I stay alone, but I have other expenses. I will have to pay my maid even though she has not been coming.”

Real estate lawyer Farid Karachiwala, a partner with J Sagar Associates, too feels a deferment is unreasonable. “If someone rented a property for commercial uses and couldn’t do any business during the lockdown, he can probably ask for a waiver,” says Karachiwala. “But how can you refuse rent for a residence when you are using it, especially during the lockdown?” he asked.

April 11, 2020

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