Rising rents in Kuwait rival the weather as the hottest topic of debate in Kuwait this summer. Landlords often ignore the five-year rule and raise rents against the law. Many tenants are ignorant or unsure of what to do but a growing number of both local and expat renters in Kuwait are not ready to give up without a fight.
“I have been living in the building for four years now; I used to pay KD 220 plus KD 10 to the haris. Recently, the haris told me that the landlord wants to increase the rent by KD 45. I refused and sent a message through him to the landlord that I know my rights very well – assuming the landlord knew what I meant exactly,” said Toni, a Lebanese expat. Kuwait’s rental law stipulates that the owner of an apartment cannot increase the rent within five years of a rental contract. After five years, the landlord can increase the rent only after he gives a one-month notice period stating he will increase the rent, says a report in Kuwait Times.
Some landlords prepare a one-year contract to get around the law to ensure they have the power to renew it and increase the rent legally. But still some landlords and companies disregard the law and try to take the tenant for a ride. Unfortunately, they get lucky sometimes, especially since most expats are foreigners and aren’t fluent in Arabic. More often than not, there is no English version of the contract, so foreigners fall victim to their ploy and don’t have the courage to fight for their rights.
“I have been staying in the same apartment for over nine years now. I used to pay KD 180 plus KD 5 to the haris. Since then, the landlord has been increasing my rent every year by KD 5 until it reached KD 240,” said Rima, another Lebanese expat.
At first I used to fight, make a big deal out of it and refuse to pay the increased amount. But after that I gave up because I was told that if I don’t like it, I can leave. I know my rights and the law states that they can’t raise the rent if I have a five-year contract. But I also know that the landlord’s brother is a judge and to be honest, that scared me. So I pay what they want because I don’t want any headaches or problems,” she continued.
While Rima chose not to stand for her rights, Toni decided to dispute the rental increase. He along with several others from his building refused to pay the increased amount. “I decided with other tenants to stand up against him, and when he knew that the majority disagreed and it was a lost cause, he withdrew his demand and we won,” said Toni, with triumph evident in his voice.
Rising rents is not the only thing that expats suffer in Kuwait. The increasing cost of living has affected nearly every aspect of life including food, housing, clothing and other services. Meanwhile concomitant rises in salaries are rare. Although Kuwait is the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter, it is also known for fighting record inflation as housing and food costs soar.
“I want to leave Kuwait because we can’t live like this anymore; everything is so expensive. I feel that the government wants to kick us out of the country. They should stop insulting us. We can’t afford to pay for anything anymore with our modest salaries that doesn’t match our basic needs. Today they are increasing rents and food and tomorrow will be the petrol, then what?” asked Rima with vain.
As for Toni, he said he is celebrating his victory for now, but he will move when his five-year contract ends because he feels that paying KD 256 for a small one-bedroom, one-bathroom flat is just not worth it. “I wish there was a law that categorized and valued apartments for what they’re exactly worth and not what the landlord wants. Rents are very high these days. We wish that our employers take this into consideration and give us a pay rise so that we can afford a decent life,” he said.