Stakeholders meet to list necessary amendments to the law

The landlords outnumbered tenants at the consultation meet

House owners in the capital turned up in hordes, with maximum attendance, to voice out issues at a meeting initiated by the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) in collaboration with Thimphu Thromde to garner feedback for revision of the Tenancy Act of Kingdom of Bhutan 2004. Although tenants constitute almost 75 percent of the urban populace, it was the concerned landlords dominating the discussions with relevant agencies at the one-day meet held earlier this week, on November 26.

Thimphu Thrompon, Kinlay Dorjee noted the meeting would have been more productive if the presence of various stakeholders were equal in numbers.

Speaking at the event, MoWHS Minister Dorji Choden expressed her observations that the Tenancy Act, although passed in 2004, failed in implementation and lacked public awareness.

With reference to the increasing rental unit for lease of land to business entities for non-agricultural purposes, Lyonpo Dorji Choden said the rates would further rise with the country’s growing economy. Lyonpo said public consultation is vital to determine the flaws in the laws and ensure sound relationship between land owners or lessor and tenants.

Lyonpo also added that the Act will draw a line on the responsibilities and authority of the Thromde, local government (LG) and ministry while resolving disputes between landlords and tenants/lessee.

Participants at the meeting said they didn’t have any comprehensive idea about tenancy laws, although aware of an Act in place.

Discussions included house owners levying equivalent rental charges irrespective of the condition or standard of buildings. Participants at the meeting also talked about fixing specific rental charges, depending on the purpose or utilization of the space categorization of structures as residential, business, and official purposes.

On the need of valid agreements between house owners and tenants, the Thrompon said most people with disputes do not have a proper or no signed contract at all, which leaves no basis to pursue a case. He said neither the Thromde nor any court of law would be able to confer any judgment in the absence of a valid rental agreement.

The agreements, he said, should be in line with the official sample and unnecessary inclusion of terms would be forfeited.

At the meeting, a consensus was reached that both landlords and their tenants would be fined Nu 5,000 each, should they not draw up an agreement while renting apartments.

Participants also discussed on the unreasonable and erratic increase of rental charges by landlords, but were never reported to the Dispute Settlement Committee or their respective authorities. It was found that tenancy agreements in many cases were not drawn between the owner and tenants and that the Disputes Settlement Committee was not established uniformly or effectively by the LGs.

The Disputes Settlement Committee currently also do not have adequate authority to investigate, summon, make orders and collect fines with regard to cases such as, abandonment of premises by tenants without payment of rents and occupants’ refusal to vacate at the end of tenancy periods.

After an extensive dialogue, with respect to advance notice, it was decided that tenants wishing to discontinue renting a unit, or owners wishing to reacquire a rental unit would have to issue a two-month written notice in advance. In case of rent increment, that notification would have to be issued three months in advance.

After almost a decade since the Tenancy Act came into effect, it is up for amendment following a resolution by the second Parliament during its first session in September this year. Amendment of the Act has been a part of the ruling party’s first 100-Days pledge.

National Assembly members during the first Parliamentary session said nothing was wrong with the legislation that was passed in 2004 to protect the rights and responsibilities of both tenants and house-owners. The problem was found to be with enforcement of legislation. The relevant minister, MoWHS was assigned the task to identify why it has been a problem for the past nine years. This will probably be presented in the winter session of Parliament.

Meanwhile, the capital city, once flooded with tenants in search of empty apartments is now faced with another challenge, a complete reverse of the earlier scenario. With buildings mushrooming everywhere, from the city’s heart to its outskirts, many new vacant apartments are now lying unoccupied after months of its completion.

The city known to be experiencing the worst housing crunch is now coming around with buildings surpassing the number of occupants. This is evident from the dozens of new apartments remaining unoccupied in Babesa, Olakha, Dechencholing, Motithang, Changzamtog, and other parts of the city.

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