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NA puts brakes on rent hikes

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A garment worker hangs out her washing at a rented residence in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district yesterday afternoon. The National Assembly yesterday passed a rent control law that will be applicable to garment workers and university students. Pha Lina

NA puts brakes on rent hikes

Lawmakers yesterday passed a rent control law for low-income earners and students, prohibiting landlords from increasing rent for two years once a contract is signed and allowing tenants to scrap a lease agreement without notice.

The law, which sailed through the National Assembly with 102 of a possible 104 votes, was welcomed by workers, students and labour rights groups, who have long campaigned against landlords raising prices on the back of minimum wage increases.

“I’m over the moon,” said Song Danet, an 18-year-old student at Indradevi High School who rents a room in Tuol Kork for $70 per month excluding electricity.

“It makes me feel safe and reduces the worry about changing accommodation too often,” she said.

Under the new law, landlords and tenants must agree to a binding two-year contract written and endorsed by the relevant commune chief.

During that time, landlords cannot increase the rent and can only end the contract if a tenant fails to pay their rent two consecutive times without a valid reason or misuses the property and disrupts the peace and order of the neighbourhood in which they live.

Tenants, however, can withdraw from the contract at any time.In the past, Nan Ony, legal officer of the Housing Rights Task Force, had said some of the provisions appeared “seriously” unfair for landlords.

Yesterday, however, Srey Mom, a landlord near Tuol Sleng Museum, said she welcomed the law, but expressed concern over its stipulation of two-year fixed contracts.

“[Workers] are paid little; if their wages are upped a little bit, the house owners should not increase the rental prices,” she said.

“But I know that the period of two years will really make it difficult for landlords, so we would like to appeal to the government to consider [this] and control market prices, make them more stable and don’t just blame the free market.”

Observers have warned the law must coincide with a crackdown on corruption so landlords aren’t burdened by unofficial fees.

“We appreciate the law . . . but we have to be careful of the struggle of landlords as well, if the government does not reduce the corruption of the unofficial expenses charged by local authorities,” said Moeun Tola of the Community Legal Education Centre.

Questions also remain about the law’s implementation. CPP lawmaker, Pal Sam Oeun, a member of the working group behind the legislation, said after the law’s adoption that “relevant institutions” will assess tenants’ means.

“The government will determine the division of roles within the ministries and other relevant institutions to determine the level of poverty of workers and students,” Oeun said.

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay recommended establishing an oversight body to guide its implementation.

CLEC’s Tola, meanwhile, said the price freeze would not have a significant impact on cost-of-living expenses ahead of coming wage talks, as food, transport and education prices still forced many workers to work overtime.

Kit Meng, a garment factory worker at the Kin Tai factory, hoped the law would bring relief from rising prices and protect tenants, although she remained skeptical about its implementation.

Calling for similar controls on utility prices, Meng, who rents a room in Chak Angre Krom commune, said: “It is good to have the law, but to what extent will it be carried out?”

“Based on my experience, when we ask, the landlord always turns a deaf ear, and if we continue to ask, they will stop renting to us.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING SHAUN TURTON

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