US dollar monthly rents exacerbate residents’ living difficulties in al-Qamishli

Al-Qamishli city, Shadwan neighborhood - 20 February 2021 (Enab Baladi / Majd al-Salem)

Al-Qamishli city, Shadwan neighborhood - 20 February 2021 (Enab Baladi / Majd al-Salem)

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Al-Hasakah – Majd al-Salem

For two months, the thirty-something Adnan Ahmed has been trying to find another house to rent proportionate to his monthly income. He visited as many as seven real estate offices in the al-Qamishi city but to no avail. “The homeowner is no longer content with the Syrian currency. I pay him monthly 75,000 Syrian pounds (SYP = 22 USD), but he insisted on receiving the rent in the US dollar this time.” 

Ahmed has a newborn baby with his wife, who is still a university student and “cannot contribute to household expenses.”

He sinks into anxiety whenever he receives a call and sees the homeowner’s name on his phone’s screen since the latter raised the rent to 140,000 SYP (40 USD)— almost twice what Ahmed used to pay before.

Ahmed’s rental crisis is made worse by the fact that his monthly salary as a government employee does not exceed 45,000 SYP (12 USD).

Having to pay in US dollar

Like many other tenants in al-Qamishli and other cities in al-Hasakah governorate, Ahmed is overwhelmed with high housing and real estate rents, due to low supply and property owners’ desire to collect their monthly rents in the US dollar.

Salam Hassan from the al-Qamishli countryside tried hard to find a house to rent in the city close to his store for cell phone selling and maintaining and in proportion to his monthly income. Nevertheless, his store’s high rent, which amounted to 523,000 SYP (150 USD), stood as an obstacle, for he could not rent an equally expensive house. 

“The majority of houses put up for rent are leased in the US dollar, and even homeowners dealing in the Syrian Pound are demanding high monthly rents and six months to one-year advanced payments,” Hassan said.

Therefore, Hassan decided to abandon the idea of living in the city and instead bought a motorcycle to ride from his village, about 30 kilometers south of al-Qamishli, to his workplace every day.

Property owners’ role

Ahmed Zaidan, an apartment owner in the Syriac neighborhood, told Enab Baladi that property owners are not to blame for raising the monthly rents of their real estates, be they business or residential properties, “as the price of everything has gone up.” This price increase was due to the deterioration of the Syrian pound’s value against foreign currencies and the US dollar, which amounted to 3,500 Syrian pounds per 1 US dollar last February.

Property owners have “many financial obligations.” Any property in the market is priced at about 250 million SYP (72,000 USD), and it would be “unreasonable” to rent it for 50,000 SYP (14 USD), according to Zaidan.

Nasser al-Habib, another property owner in the city, thinks that paying monthly rents in the US dollar has become “necessary,” noting that any damage caused by the tenant to the property costs the owner “much more than the monthly rent paid by the tenant.”

Al-Habib gave the example of plumbing fixtures that worn out easily and are sold in the US dollar. He said, “a bathroom water mixer’s replacement cost is about 250,000 SYP (72 USD) if it was of average quality. This is three times the monthly rent I am paid by the tenant.”

A source from the al-Ali real estate office in al-Qamishli pointed out that real estate agents have benefited “greatly” from the rise in monthly rents. They are the “biggest winners” in any sell, purchase, mortgage, or lease transaction. After signing the lease contract, real estate agents receive a month’s rent from both parties, the lessor and the tenant. This is why “some real estate agents go after high rents.” 

The lowest monthly rent is currently 100,000 SYP (25 USD), which increases depending on the property’s proximity to the city center, size, equipment, and neighborhood quality. Some houses are rented for 200,000 SYP (50 USD) per month, while others are rented for 260,000 SYP (65 USD) monthly.

The rise of monthly housing rents is a result of the continuous drop in the Syrian pound’s value against the US dollar, besides the increasing demand for houses, after the displacement of many people from other governorates to the city and the arrival of people from the countryside, seeking stability and job opportunities in the city, the real estate agent said. 

The agent added that “all organizations operating in the region rent houses on annual US dollar contracts. The average payment by any organization to a property owner is nearly 1 million and 750,000 SYP (500 USD) per month. This contributed to increasing monthly rents, the thing that all tenants feared.”

Solutions pending implementation 

The Syrian regime’s presence in only two security zones in al-Hasakah and al-Qamishli and its non-involvement in controlling rental prices, violations, and the real estate market’s chaos have made the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) fully responsible for the suffering of the tenants in its regions.

On 14 January, the Union of Associations committee proposed solutions to the problem of high housing rents in the areas under the AANES control and organized a working mechanism for the real estate offices there. On 23 February, the committee issued a decision setting housing rents and provisions regulating leasing transactions. 

The committee set the monthly rent between 10,000 and 50,000 SYP (2 – 12 USD) for ordinary houses and between 50,000 to 75,000 SYP (12 – 18 USD) for above-average houses. A super-deluxe house’s rent is set to be between 100,000 and 150,000 SYP (25 – 37 USD).

Leasing contracts concluded before the decision’s issuance date remain unchanged until the expiration of their term. They are renewed with the contract parties’ consent after adjusting the terms contrary to the decision’s provisions. In case of a violation of the decision, the property owner is fined twice the rent’s value, and if the violation were repeated, the fine would be doubled in addition to the avoidance of the violating contract.

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