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On weekends, families gather outside of their homes around their low-income housing units.
On weekends, families gather outside of their homes around their low-income housing units. Hong Menea

Rent control law unknown to those most affected

Although the National Assembly has recently passed a rent control law aimed at protecting low-income earners and students, some of those who could be impacted the most are not aware of what this legislation could mean for them if it is implemented.

In a dusty, impoverished shack in Bor Brork village, Po Sen Chey district, Sem Lay Sorn, 28, a garment factory worker, sat in her pajamas on the porch of her low-income housing unit, while wooden boards creeked unsteadily under her.

She’s been living in the same small room in the same low-income housing unit for five years, struggling to save any money as the price rises. Although a law on rent control could impact her life directly, she knew nothing about it or how it could be enforced.

Sem Lay Sorn, a garment factory worker, sits on her porch in Bor Brork village.
Sem Lay Sorn, a garment factory worker, sits on her porch in Bor Brork village. Hong Menea

“I really don’t know about the rent law,” Sem said, before being informed about it. “The law would be good because if there is a two-year contract, the landlords cannot increase the rental prices.”

Sem said when she first arrived, the rental price was only $15 per month. However, right before the minimum wage increased, the landlord increased the price to $30.

Sitting beside her, Chhouk Nat who lives in another room in the same housing unit, added that now the landlord has increased the monthly rent to $45.

“The landlord told me that all landlords increased the rental prices in general,” Chhouk said.

Without a rental contract, their monthly rent covers a small room with no kitchen, no private bathroom and no paid amenities of any sort, which means their small wages go towards paying bills.

“The electricity and water supply cost 3000 Riel and 1500 Riel respectively, then we also have to pay for the room and support ourselves with everyday life. There is no money left [in the end] for saving,” Chhouk said. “Hopefully, the law will help when it’s fully implemented.”

The rent control law was passed by the National Assembly on July 6. In its form, it would prohibit landlords from increasing rent for two years once a contract is signed. When the law was passed through the National Assembly, it was welcomed by students, workers and labour rights groups who are concerned about raising rental prices accompanied by minimum wage increases.

Low-income housing units are traditionally a single room.
Low-income housing units are traditionally a single room. Hong Menea

A landlord in Bor Brork village, Loun Bunna, said he did not know about a rent control law. However, he is optimistic about the two-year contract between tenants and landlords.

“First, I don’t really understand the [details in the] law, but I can say that if the economy stays stable, there will be no problem with the two-year contract,” he said.

However, according to Nan Ony, legal officer of Housing Right Task Force (HRTF), the law gives tenants the right to withdraw from the leasing contract at any time without informing the landlord, which seems to only protect tenants.

However, Bunna is not concerned with the issue of tenants leaving without warning.

“If [tenants] don’t want to continue the contract, yes, that’s okay,” Bunna said.

The law still needs to head to the Senate for a final review before being submitted to King Norodom Sihamoni for approval.

As the law waits for final approval, Ony said the law still requires changes in order to beneficial and effective.

“I am still concerned about this law, due to some of the inefficiencies in some of the articles [in the law as it is right now], it could have some damaging effects in the future,” he said.

Low-income workers struggle to save money after pay rent and utilities.
Low-income workers struggle to save money after pay rent and utilities. Hong Menea

Nevertheless, HRTF has already begun finding solutions to educate those who will be impacted by the law, as well as how it will be enforced in preperation of it passing, said Ony.

When asked how the public will be educated on this new law, Ony said that workshops will be held to explain and answer any questions. The workshops will invite all relevant ministries, representatives of local authorities, trade union representatives and related NGOs to attend.

In addition, Ony said, plans for enforcement are underway as well. As of now, most tenants do not have contracts with landlords to dispute any concerns that may arise. If the law is passed, a rental contract will become mandatory, he said.

Along with local authorities, many ministries will also be involved in the enforcement management of the law, according to Ony.

“The Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Urban Planning, Land Management and Construction, Ministry of Economic and Finance and the local authority has obligations to be responsible for enforcing this law…by establishing [their] own mechanisms,” he said.

Establishing a dispute mechanism will be another necessity.

If the law is violated, “a competent authority must immediately take action,” he said.

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