Know your rights: Eviction, pressure for rent are illegal during lockdown

The Ministry of Home Affairs has put out an order which emphasises that landlords cannot force any occupant to vacate their premises or pressure them to pay rent. However, many migrant professionals and informal workers in Chennai face such a situation. The victim can call up 100 or visit the nearest police station to resolve the issue.

Imagine being alienated in the city where you live, when there is a nation-wide lockdown: You have no place to stay nor can you return to your hometown. There is a silent group of people in our city now, living in hostels and as PGs, who are going through this harrowing experience as landlords are asking them to vacate without prior notice.

Vaishali* (25) stays in a women’s hostel in Chennai. While a majority of students staying in the hostel returned to their hometown when the educational institutions closed, she stayed back, as she works in a private firm. “Only a handful of us are here in the hostel due to work commitments. I have been asked to vacate the hostel now, and I am in a fix,” says Vaishali.

Several working professionals like Vaishali are stranded like this and have to look for a new shelter. Going to her hometown is not an option due to the lockdown and non-availability of transport. But, is it legal for landlords or hostel administrations to throw out inmates at their whims and fancies? 

Giving stern instructions on eviction, the Ministry of Home Affairs has passed an order with detailed measures to restrict the movement of tenants and strict enforcement of the lockdown.

There is an order

According to point 4 of the order passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), wherever workers, including migrants, are living in rented accommodation, the landlords of those properties shall not demand payment of rent for a period of one month. Following the Union Government order, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami requested house owners to collect the rent for March and April after two months.

If you are someone going through the ordeal, call 100 or your nearest police station and file a complaint.

People in rented houses face problems of a different kind. For Girija* (28), a working professional hailing from Kerala, her landlord demanded that she pay the rent. Living as a paying guest (PG) in Tambaram, she was asked for the rent for March by the end of the month. “I usually pay the rent in the first week of every month. I can settle the dues for March, but it is going to be hard next month, as I have not yet received my previous month’s salary,” says Girija. Her employer gave her no assurance about paying her. “My house owner is very strict. She is not willing to give me more time to pay up,” she says.

Landlord cannot force you to vacate

Unlike Girija, who is a blue-collar employee, there are daily wage-earners whose livelihood has taken a blow. All that they plead for is relaxation of the house owner’s immediate demand of rent payment, at least until the pandemic eases its grip.

Point 5 of the MHA order states that if any landlord forces labourers or students to vacate their premises, they will be liable for action under the Act (Disaster Management Act 2005). The implementation of the order is to be ensured by the District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner and Senior Superintendent of Police/ Superintendent of Police/ Deputy Commissioner of Police, says the order.

Given the extraordinary situation and measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, it is clear from the order that landlords cannot force residents to vacate or demand rent, considering that many people are facing financial difficulties.

Racial issues

For migrants from the northeast who have been long term residents in the city, the situation was even more difficult. But now, they stay in migrant camps provided by Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) in several parts of the city like Alandur, Nanganallur and Chintadripet, Egmore.

“As we resemble Chinese nationals, even our neighbours and house owners targetted us. As we were forced to vacate our houses, we raised a complaint through the police department. Now, we have been sheltered in various parts of Chennai. We are thankful to the officials for helping us,” says North East India Welfare Association Chennai president Wapang Toshi.

Apart from the temporary fix provided by the officials to people from the northeast, there are others from different walks of life who have also come forward to shelter them. Guru Nanak College in Velachery is one such Good Samaritan, which has made arrangements for migrants to stay on their premises.

How can you seek help?

It is a clear violation of rules and mandates put forth by the Centre and state. So what can one do when the landlords continue to disobey the laws and trouble their tenants? File a police complaint. The police department has received oral instructions to act on such complaints.

“If it is the first instance, we warn the owners and they are bound to abide by it. However, if they fail to follow, we will file a first information report (FIR) under IPC 188 – violation of promulgation – that attracts punishment up to two years along with fine and cancellation of licence to run a PG accommodation or hostel,” a source from the police department says.

Although the police have not received complaints from hostellers and PG residents till now, they have been acting upon complaints of North and Northeast Indians being asked to vacate. “We gave a first warning to landlords and a few fell in line. For others who had to move out, we arranged for alternative accommodation,” the source adds. The department expects more such complaints with the extension of lockdown in the state, as occupants or tenants will find it increasingly difficult to settle their dues, and hostel administrations and PG owners will also find it challenging to continue operations. “But all we want right now is for people to be safe by remaining where they are,” the cop states.

* Names changed upon request

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