Rent waivers: Huge solace for cash-strapped tenants

Private employees who have not received full salary and small businesses remain worried about rent payment

LHAKPA TSHERING | Thimphu

As the looming Omicron fear pushed several districts into lockdown, work has stopped and certainly accelerated financial distress on business and many private employees including daily wage earners.

However, hope still remains despite all odds.

Concerned by the financial difficulties faced by their tenants, some landlords across the country, despite their own financial circumstances, have either waived off or lowered some portion – at least 20 to 70 percent – of the house rent during the lockdown in view of the prolonged Covid-19 crisis.

This goodwill gesture has provided a huge respite for tenants, especially the low and moderate-income tenants, whose finances were hurt by the Covid-19 pandemic as they could not go to work to earn money for their rent.

Jeewan Limbu, a private employee in Thimphu who received full waive-off in rental during lockdown says it was a big relief and takes tons of pressure off on financial distress. “My house owner extended full support in all the lockdowns imposed in Thimphu since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said.

He said that such acts of kindness provide a real sense of relief for a lot of tenants who were struggling during the lockdown to pay their monthly rents. “Besides full rental waivers, our house owners have been asking us if we require any help during this pandemic,” he said, adding that they were immensely relieved from their financial burdens.

Gem Lham, who runs a café in Thimphu, said the owner of the building where she is being rented to run her business has waived the full rent during the first lockdown and since then supported her by giving a half reduction during all the lockdowns. 

For a big family, she said, this is very much helpful and also helps to pay the salary of her staff during lockdown even with a zero income in a month. “I don’t have savings as our business was just started during the pandemic. I have been paying when I could but, during this lockdown, they were given a 70 percent salary.”

Landlords who have given rental waivers feel that this is one of the ways to serve the King and nation through their own little ways as many of them benefited from the Kidu through deferment of loan repayments and all loans with the waiver of interest during the pandemic.

“These are extraordinary times and we should help each other at our best,” says Ranjit Tamang, the owner of Bhutan Real Estate, who fully waived rents for his 14 tenants – private and corporate employees and business runners – during all the pandemic lockdowns. “I just wanted to help them through my earnings.”

“I hear different stories of tenants and employees through my friends. This is my small contribution to our nation. Their happiness is my happiness,” he said. “The waivers will continue should there be any lockdowns in the future,”

He feels landlords, especially those who are beneficial of Kidu, should come forward to help their tenants at least by slicing half of their monthly rents. “The finance minister also issued a notification that the rental waiver extended will not be considered as the income. The government is also very supportive,” he added.

In addition, Ranjit Tamang also contributed Nu 1-million to the Kidu Fund in 2021, donated 2,000 cases of mineral water worth Nu 300,000 to the desuup frontline workers of Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Wangdue Phodrang, and supported 12 coaster buses for a month-long desuup duty including fuel costs and allowances for the drivers.

Among owners who gave rental waivers, Jash Maja Darlami building owner in Bajo town has given a 50 percent rent waiver for January although the lockdown, amid heightened restrictions, has led to shut down their two non-essential businesses running in other’s buildings within the town.

“The benefits we got from His Majesty the King are not only for the owners but should be beneficial to all,” she added. “While it depends on individuals, I feel this is the right time to help each other in one or other ways.”

Meanwhile, with many private employees who had not received full salaries during the lockdown, rent – the biggest pocket burner – was their top concern. In addition, small businesses that are the hardest hit with over-tightening cash reserves are no exception.

For a woman, who runs a Zumba in Bajo, the lockdown caused significant anxiety as she was already operating business on thin profit margins.

“I have no clients during the lockdown but I have to pay the instructor’s salary even with zero income. I have been paying when I could but now I’m worried,” she said. “I realized that this is going to be a real disaster for me because I have no other means to earn.”

A private firm employee who received half salary during lockdown says that battling affordable housing in Thimphu city was a crisis even before the Covid-19, and the pandemic has only aggravated the situation. 

“It is frustrating to see landlords who receive Kidu on loan deferment and interest waivers not responding to this urgent situation,” she said. “We can keep complaining but get nowhere.”