House renters turn into “cladding contractors” in Idlib

A displaced resident of the city of Idlib renovates a house he recently rented - June 9, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)

A displaced resident of the city of Idlib renovates a house he recently rented - June 9, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)


Idlib – Anas al-Khouli

The 33-year-old Hatem al-Shami is eagerly awaiting the return of the owner of the house he rented from Turkey to Idlib. He wanted to sign the lease to guarantee his right to the sums he paid in the restoration process.

Al-Shami, an IDP from Eastern Ghouta suburbs, agreed with the owner of the house on a low rent for one year in exchange for the repairs he made.

He fears that the owner of the house will evict him with the aim of renting it at a higher price, and he will enter into a cycle of constantly moving between homes because the agreement was not linked to a lease contract before the restoration process.

Al-Shami told Enab Baladi that the average rents in Idlib are constantly rising without controls or oversight, which exhausts people with limited or almost non-existent incomes.

The rent is $75 for good houses, while the wages for a worker are 75 Turkish liras (less than $4).

The rise in house prices has forced young people to look for houses with low rent, even if they are uninhabitable due to their poor condition. The tenant plans to implement some simple improvements, such as installing some windows and closing some openings that lead to the entry of air.

These repairs are undertaken by the tenant without any assistance from the homeowner, who often views these improvements as an “opportunity to raise the rent,” al-Shami said.

In the aftermath of the Feb.6 earthquake, al-Shami was forced to leave his old house because of the cracks, and he started searching for a suitable house with low rent, even if it existed in an old architecture in one of the old neighborhoods of Idlib.

Al-Shami’s house needs repairs related to water pipes and electricity connections, and it has a number of cracks; jointly estimating with the owner of the house the cost of the repairs at $200.

The urgent need of the owner of the house and her inability to carry out the repairs led to a suitable agreement with al-Shami to carry out the repairs at his personal expense in exchange for paying a rent of 400 Turkish liras for a year.

An amount al-Shami considers to be “very small” compared to rents in the city.

After the cost of the repair exceeded $235, a lawyer advised the tenant to organize a lease contract with the landlady and to confirm the agreement that took place between them in the contract and with the testimony of two witnesses to guarantee his right and not risk the assumption of evicting him from the house.

Two bitter choices

Omar Othman, 37, an IDP who suffers from the same problem, told Enab Baladi that “Four months ago, the landlord of the house he was renting notified him to leave the house after the end of the lease contract, to start the search for another house.”

After much trouble, Othman found a modest house consisting of three rooms, but without internal windows between the rooms or water faucets, and the bathroom without a door. Despite this, the owner of the house asked for $60 as rent.

The landlord made it clear that he is not ready for the restoration and will not reduce the rent in return for anything added by the tenant to the house, saying that the tenant can dismantle the doors, faucets, and windows he added and take them when the contract ends, according to Othman.

Othman accepted to live in a modest house with an acceptable rent, despite carrying out repairs and renovations at his own expense, instead of looking for a better house with a high price that he could not afford, despite his fears of losing the costs, he paid and the possibility of the rent increasing after a year when the lease contract ends.

For his part, the IDP, Marwan al-Abdullah, described his situation and that of his counterparts, saying, “We feel that we are contractors for cladding or cleaning workshops. We are forced to move to another house every six months, and it also needs some repairs, and of course, all of them are at the expense of the tenant.”

A number of tenants interviewed by Enab Baladi called on the local responsible authorities to set rent controls and to look into the restoration work and repairs.

A rented house that was renovated by a displaced person residing in the northwestern city of Idlib - June 9, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)

A rented house that was renovated by a displaced person residing in the northwestern city of Idlib – June 9, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)

Homeowners are complaining, too

Homeowners believe that some tenants destroy the house due to a lack of proper care, which leads to great damage to the house, costing them huge sums that exceed the total sums they took from the tenants throughout the rental period.

Saeed Barhoum, 55, a house owner in the city of Idlib, told Enab Baladi that in 2018 he traveled to Turkey to carry out some work. He did not want to rent his house, but after a friend’s insistence, he rented the house to one of his acquaintances.

After four years that the tenant spent in the house, during which the rent increased from $15 to $50 in the last year, and when Barhoum returned from Turkey in 2022, he demanded that the tenant move out.

The condition of the house after the tenant moved out was “deplorable,” according to Barhoum’s description, who said that the tenant’s young children wrote on the walls, the sink was broken, the sewage lines were almost blocked, and some light bulbs were out of order, with the cost of repairing the damage amounting to $2,500.

The building contractor, Waddah al-Ahmad, said that he owns a four-story building in the city of Idlib and rents it to some tenants, who “do not feel the value of the house, and neglect to take care of it, which leads to severe and very costly damage.”

He also said that some of his tenants take care of the homes as if they owned them.

Al-Ahmad believes that homeowners must take care of their homes first, and carry out the necessary repairs before entering the tenant so that they feel the need to take care of the house, then they must set conditions that guarantee their rights in the event that they do not take care of it, in addition to a security amount that is paid before the lease and returns to the tenant when he leaves.

Who bears restoration costs?

Idlib-based Lawyer Mohamad al-Salamah told Enab Baladi that the contract is originally the law of the contracting parties, and the entire matter is subject to the agreement fixed in the lease contract.

Restoration work before the leasing process is agreed upon during negotiation, and it must be fixed in the lease contract and adhered to by both sides.

The lawyer explained that the subsequent repair work after the tenant’s departure is subject to the rule “Whoever causes damage to others must compensate.”

The tenant must take care of the house as if it’s his house, and he must take care of it and hand over the house in the condition he received, based on the prophetic principle “Do no harm.”

There are special cases in emergency circumstances where damages occur that make it impossible for the tenant to benefit from the leased property, such as the destruction of the stairs leading to the house. In the event the owner refuses to repair, the tenant has the right to request the interim relief judge to carry out these repairs at the tenant’s expense until the civil case for the restoration expenses is decided or to leave the house and claim the amounts paid without using the house.

Fawaz Hilal, the administrative adviser to the presidency of the council of ministers in the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), told Enab Baladi that the contract is the law of the contracting parties.

After the lease contracts are documented by the notary public, the contract becomes “legal force,” and it cannot be terminated or breached except by violating the agreed terms contained in the contract or by the agreement of the parties.

Hilal added that the contract is defined by a period, value, and other conditions agreed upon between the landlord and the lessee, and the public body does not usually have the power to deprive the parties of the will of contracting or termination, but rather it is a guarantor of good execution.

Regarding the restoration operations, the consultant said that the balance in this matter is the contract signed between the parties.

If the restoration is intended for repairs without touching the structure (columns or walls), then no one is obligated to it because it is maintenance that does not affect the safety of the building.

And if what is meant by the restoration is the structural support of the building, which affects safety, then one party is not obligated at the expense of another, but rather the matter is left to the agreement between the parties, the advisor told Enab Baladi.

In the event that the landlord refuses to support the building structure, which poses a danger to the tenant, then the tenant is instructed to file a lawsuit against the landlord to resolve the dispute in accordance with the terms of the contract in a way that ensures the strengthening of the building and the removal of risks, and then it is transferred to the Local Administration Ministry to complete the necessary engineering procedures, Hilal said.



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