The government is failing to enforce, or even make landlords and tenants aware of, the new rent-control law, even as rents begin to creep up in anticipation of garment workers receiving their annual wage raise next month, labour advocates say.
The legislation, which went into effect in August after being publicly pushed for by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a February speech, requires landlords to negotiate prices with low-income tenants – like students and garment workers – then sign an agreement to lock in the price for two years. The pacts must be endorsed by the local commune chief.
However, those in the garment sector have long complained that their rents rise with their wages. And as workers in the garment industry prepare to receive a 9.3 per cent pay bump when the minimum wage increases to $140 next month, reports are already emerging that some landlords have increased rents by 10 per cent – without providing guarantees that prices won’t rise further – according to union leader Pav Sina.
“Since the law was passed and approved for implementation, the authorities have done nothing to enforce or spread information about it to landlords or workers,” said Sina, president of the Cambodian Union for the Movement of Workers. “Workers have not received any benefit from the law; whenever the minimum wage increases, the rent will increase too.”
With average rents between $40 and $50, “some areas have already increased the rental fee by $4 or $5 per room, especially in the Veng Sreng [Boulevard] area”, Sina said.
Yesterday, Hem Dararith, governor of Por Sen Chey district, which includes parts of Veng Sreng, said authorities had informed landlords and tenants about the legislation.
“We have announced the new contract law already, but the rental fee can increase depending on what the two parties agree to in the contract” he said.
But many still appear unaware of their rights.
Lao Samnang, a 23-year-old garment worker from Prey Veng province who shares a room with four people, said their rent increased $5.50 in October to $60 without any negotiation.
“I did not know why the house owner increased the rental fee; I also heard from a friend living in another area that theirs increased too,” she said. “I was not aware of a rental contract; I just only follow the requirement of the house owner.”
Landlord Sok Pich, who owns 150 rental rooms in Meanchey district and charges between $35 and $40 a month, said he had not received any official information about the law, though had heard about it “on the news”.
“I don’t have any plan to increase rental fees, even though I know other landlords now are increasing theirs,” he said, adding that he had not negotiated any rental contracts with his tenants.
Bun Van, a representative of around 4,000 workers in the Canadia Industrial Park, said rent for about 80 per cent of rooms in the district had increased between $5 and $7.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, slammed the new law as ineffective, saying rent and utilities were still squeezing workers.
“Rental room fees have increased in almost every area. I have got many complaints about this problem,” Thorn said.
Speaking yesterday, Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour said local authorities were responsible for enforcing the law, which he said was effective 30 days after its adoption.
Phnom Penh municipality spokesman Long Dimanche, however, said he was unaware of the legislation, but said the city would take action.
“If the rental contract law was signed by the King, we will make the announcement for authorities to enforce it,” he said.
According to a copy of the legislation on the National Assembly website, King Norodom Sihamoni signed the bill on July 29.