Most of us have had a relationship with a landlord (or landlady. Here I use the term ‘landlord’ for both) at some point in our lives (unless you’re super privileged and have lived in your own house forever) – and I am yet to meet a person who did not have a single issue with his/her lanlord. Renting a house in India isn’t easy, not to say that it’s easy in other countries, but here it’s not just the legal paperwork that’s exhausting, it’s the tyrannical and dictatorial attitude of landlords towards their tenants that’s even more exhausting. As a tenant, your life doesn’t become easy the moment you sign that lease; the misery continues for as long as you live in someone else’s house.
Although I have had and heard many horrible experiences, I’m only going to focus on the ones that enraged me the most. Technically, once the lease is signed, the house belongs to the tenant for the time period mentioned. The landlord cannot enjoy the freedoms that he/she used to in regard to the house, i.e, cannot dictate the tenant’s schedule, who they meet, what they eat, who comes to the house or ask to keep a spare key to the house. Let me reiterate – this is illegal. Infact, even to visit the premises the landlord needs to give a 24-hour notice to the tenant, and make a visit only if it is convenient for both. However, in reality, this does not happen. Recently, a close relative of mine shared her horrific experience with her ex-landlord with me. Initially when they (she and her friends) rented the apartment, the landlord and his family seemed nice, but life became hell for them when they started living there. They kept an eye on everything they did, and poked their noses whenever they could. “Too many friends are visiting”, “Too many get-togethers”, “Too many boys”, “Too many beer bottles” etc. This bickering and interference became a daily routine. Note that a landlord cannot impose social or moral restrictions on the tenant. They can only raise concerns if permissible noise levels are being crossed, or if severe damage is being done to the property. That too, has to be communicated in a respectful manner. Trying to moral police a tenant simply because he/she has rented out one’s premises is not just illegal, it’s plain wrong.
The landlord also charged them more on the electricity bill than he should have. If the government electricity bill states Rs. x/unit of electricity, he charged them Rs. x+3/unit of electricity. Which, once again, is illegal and also a form of bullying. The point that is being made here is – ‘it’s my house, so I will do what I want, when I want and how I want’. Eventually, they decided to vacate the house, but on the day they were supposed to vacate, he locked them inside the house until they cleared all the dues. All this amounts to harassment, and ideally they should have filed a police complaint against him. But due to our conditioning and social pressures, we generally avoid getting involved with the police.
In another instance, a girl was refused to be given a house on rent simply because she is muslim. Rejecting someone on the basis of their religion sounds unfair, disrespectful and shameful, but then there are also people who reject prospective tenants on the basis of the food they eat. Some landlords don’t want tenants who eat non-vegetarian food. Some don’t want single men/women. Some have a problem with drinking and smoking. Some have a problem with the company people work at. Some have a problem with caste. Some don’t want friends of the opposite sex to visit. Some don’t want pets. Some have a problem with skin color. Some have a problem with living.
What irks me the most is the amount of entitlement that exists within every landlord. Most of this behavior is illegal, and if not illegal then just plain wrong and disrespectful. But unfortunately we live in a country where owning a property makes you a king (or a queen) and automatically grants you powers you ought not to have. If laws were implemented properly, and tenant rights were taken seriously, then a lot of us wouldn’t have to compromise on a daily basis with our self-respect and way of life. Unfortunately, even the cops side with the landlords in most cases. It is always the tenant who is harassed and bullied.
I am not trying to dismiss the fact that even tenants misbehave and sometimes cause destruction, but the problems I listed above are not a result of bad experiences, they’re a product of a shitty mindset propagated through generations. Patriarchy, misogyny, racism, classism, casteism, ageism, colorism – they all exist in our society and are deeply rooted. So naturally, these social evils come out even in transactional relationships like the ones between a landlord and tenant.
You would think that it’s 2020 and we might have made some progress. But in reality, we’re decaying as a society everyday.