Expats face challenges renting flats in Mumbai

From The Hindu

Upon her arrival in India on a work permit six months ago, Aakanksha Sadekar, 27, an expat from Britain, started looking for a 2BHK flat on rent in a housing complex with swimming pool and gymnasium. Powai was the obvious choice for the petroleum engineer, given that both, her work place and her boyfriend, were based there.

“I was told I could expect a modest 2BHK flat in the area for Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 per month. But one broker explicitly said expats were charged higher and asked for Rs 1.10 lakh per month,” she says. Sadekar approached six brokers in a week and “all of them quoted between Rs 90,000 and 1,00,000”. Eventually, she got her uncle, an Indian and a resident of Thane, to do the bidding and register the house in his name. “It is only with my uncle’s help, and his Indian documents that I was able to find myself a spacious 3BHK apartment at Raheja Vihar in Powai for Rs 65,000 per month,” says Sadekar.

Kelvin Cheung, a 36-year-old chef from Canada, who works with a hospitality firm in Bandra, has moved three houses since he arrived in Mumbai more than four years ago. “In our first house, provided by the company in Kemps Corner, I got myself into a physical altercation with the security for refusing to sign the register as we moved in and out of the building. It seemed as if they wanted to keep a track of our movements, as we were foreigners,” he says.

Cheung spent five months finding his a rental home in Bandra near Mount Mary church, but soon gave up. “They asked me to show a letter from my church with my pastor verifying that I was a good, practising Catholic. That was the oddest thing I came across and I obviously rejected it,” he says. The chef now lives all by himself in a 2BHK rented flat in Rizvi Complex, Bandra for Rs 80,000 per month.

Both Aakanksha and Kelvin, represent a growing expat community in the city, which makes for a big chunk of customers for rental housing, especially in the plush localities of South Mumbai, Bandra and Powai.

Farook Maniyar, owner of HMS property in Bandra (West), who has helped four expats find a house on rent in the past three months, says that although the number of expats has reduced from what it was about a year back, it is still very significant.

“In 2014-15, we catered to 15-20 expats who were looking for accommodation in South Mumbai and Bandra,” says Maniyar.

Sadique Shaikh, another broker from Bandra, says assisting expats in finding accommodation is lucrative and easy. “We only show them big and spacious homes,” he says. “The first thing they look at in the house is the toilet. If they are fine with it, they’ll buy it, else they won’t. They aren’t fussy and pay anywhere from Rs 65,000 to Rs 1,00,000 and above for a neat and good-looking flat,” says Shaikh.

Hannu Hutamaki, a Finnish national, was amused that brokers in Vashi were unable to furnish any information about the power back-up systems in the housing complexes. “I was told Vashi has power cuts often and there are chances of being stuck in an elevator. But none of the brokers took it seriously. Rather, I could see they were passing comments about me in their language,” says the 49-year-old management consultant.

For France-born, 31-year-old Fredo Oliver (name changed) the process of finding a house on rent in Mumbai was cumbersome. “It is only in Mumbai that I saw myself bargaining for a house for the first time, given the high rentals they charge in Colaba and Bandra,” says Oliver, who works for a multinational consulting firm. “I visited over 20 apartments, but couldn’t find a reasonably priced house in a location closer to my work place in Lower Parel,” he says. Currently, Oliver stays in a 2BHK apartment in Khar and pays Rs 1 lakh per month as rent, which he says is highly prohibitive.

Many tried websites and apps to find a place of their liking. Sadekar looked up housing options on a number of housing websites and apps, but finally decided to go through the traditional route of real estate brokers. “The options weren’t good. The response wasn’t fast and the images often didn’t match the description of the property,” she says.

Cheung feels “brokers can filter the right houses better and faster as they go and actually see the place before you waste your time on the Internet.”

However, Merlies Bloemendaal, 42, a Dutch, and founder of Ministry of New Coworking Spaces in Mumbai, took to the Internet to find a flatmate on Hill Road in Bandra. “I looked up on the Bombay expats group and found my Swedish roommate. We now share the rent of Rs 62,000 per month,” she says.

Bloemendaal, a graphic designer, came to Mumbai in 2007 and asked her broker to find a place that offers “the luxury of peace in a crazy city like Mumbai”. She says, “Although I’ve been staying at the same place for almost eight years now, it wasn’t a cakewalk initially. I had to actually lie to the owners that I was a Catholic, because otherwise they wouldn’t allow me to stay.” Even today, Bloemendaal has to put up with increasing curiosity from those around her, who quiz her and her roommate about their jobs, friends and lifestyle. “Given that Mehboob Studios is just around the corner, people tend to think we are some sleazy bunch of Bollywood wannabes, and I have to always explain myself,” she says.

According to the data shared by Inter Nations, an online community for expatriates around the world, “One in four expats in India consider the accommodation search at least somewhat difficult.” The study says, “Compared to the worldwide average, expatriates in India rate the affordability of housing quite positively, with over one-fifth (21%) even going so far as to say it is very good. However, a significant 30% were still unhappy with this aspect of their lives.”

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