Extortion via high deposits demanded as ‘security’ bonds by landlords in Bengaluru must stop, says a group of petitioners — newcomers to the city and good Samaritans — have teamed up to protect the interests of tenants house-hunting in the city. The activists have filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Karnataka High Court addressing the interests of people who do not own homes but must rent housing under one-on-one tenancy agreements with landlords. Such laws already exist in states such as Tamil Nadu and Bihar, says Wasim Memon, founder of The Drive without Borders Foundation.
The Foundation, a citizens’ movement that started with the objective of safeguarding the rights of motorists and road users in India and crusaded for a single rate of road tax in all Indian states, is leading the charge. Waseem Memon said tenants started contacting him on their Facebook page seeking help when faced by Bengaluru’s inequitable rental market. He, a Hyderabadi himself, decided to do something about it.
In the absence of standardised rates for security deposits, it has become customary for landlords to insist upon high security deposits equivalent to 10 months’ rent. For example, a residential property with a monthly rent of Rs.10,000 would command a security deposit of a lakh, while a property with the monthly rent of Rs.30,000 would mean shelling out a proportionate deposit of Rs.3,00,000. This earns the landlord handsome returns through interest earned on the deposits.
The problem is compounded when some homeowners arbitrarily and with impunity get away with deducting amounts of their choosing, posing flippant and vague causes such as ‘damage’ or ‘repainting charges’ as reasons for the deductions. This unfairly raises the total layout for rent, and results in income loss through the loss of interest for, often, hard-pressed youngsters and recent economic immigrants.
Priyanka Patel, a young professional who started living in a flat in Marathahalli, shelled out Rs.1.5 lakh around two years ago as a security deposit and was faced with no choice but to give away Rs.56,000 to her London-based landlady, though she had agreed to only pay Rs.30,000, ostensibly for “repainting” the property. At one time, the landlady threatened to keep their deposit money if she had any male visitors, even relatives, to the house.
Though the problem extends across all income classes and communities, the unsanctioned practice harms vulnerable groups of, often, young men and women who move to live in Bengaluru to be part of its booming electronics and IT industries, the region’s largest employers.
“Young immigrants and couples in junior positions in jobs who are new to the city are also badly-affected,” says Memon who is leading the group of activists. “They lose lakhs of rupees to landlords each year in the guise of one imagined problem or another. Going to court to establish the nature of the wrongdoing by a landlord is difficult, expensive and time-consuming and not considered a viable option by busy city dwellers. So, in the absence of legal recourse, tenants have little option but to bear the financial burden.”
The practice has become rampant and reached near epidemic proportions, he says: “Keeping this in mind, the Central Government’s draft Model Tenancy Act (first in 2011 and a revised version in 2015) seeks to update the law relating to landlords and tenants across the nation. It is a model law directed for the consideration of state governments. it will provide for a cap on security deposits for tenancy agreements at three months’ rent.”
The statute, if put in place, also seeks a retrospective provision where tenants who have their cash — greater than 3 months’ rent — stuck with landlords may ask for it back, and expect it to be returned within a period of 15 days. The citizens’ group, Drive Without Borders, a Facebook group, has sought a preliminary response from the high court within 21 days of the receipt of the petition.
Credits Bangalore Mirror