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Ungoverned rent law shelved

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Garment factory workers near Phnom Penh Water Park on their lunch break this week. Heng Chivoan

Ungoverned rent law shelved

There have been many reports on the rent control law since its official inception by the National Assembly in early July last year and subsequently, the signing of the bill by King Norodom Sihamoni on July 29. However, many tenants – especially garment factory workers, and other low-income earners – are still oblivious to this law and their rights under it, according to Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF).

“The government is not actively implementing it right now and there are still many people who are unaware of this law. The last update I heard about this rent control law was at the end of last year,” said Phearum.

While there is a lack of knowledge among tenants, there is also inter-ministerial puzzlement.

There is no specific governmental body tasked with regulating this particular law, according to the HRTF, which believes that the law should be enforced through a coordinated effort chaired by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC), along with the Ministry of Labour.

Spokesperson Seng Lot of the MLMUPC – when asked about the current status of the law – referred Post Property to the Ministry of Labour, of which its representative Heng Sour in turn stated that “[the] Ministry of Labour is not the institution who enforces this law”.

Repeated requests for clarification from Heng Sour went ignored.

In a country where many laws are passed, yet remain inactively enforced due to bureaucratic malaise, the rent control law seems to be heading for the shelf.

“I think the government will not continue to really enforce this law because it does not benefit them; they are only interested in enforcing hard laws when it can be profitable or if it is in their interests,” Phearum said and further elaborated that the government’s initial pushing of this law in February last year was to gain more potential voter support for the ruling party, rather than providing a sustainable solution.

Regardless, he added that if the ministries do nothing to vigorously protect poor people’s rights, there will continue to be ignorance and unrest among the workers regarding housing laws.

If this remains the case, many landlords could exploit the fact that the rent control law is not enforced.

Chearn Sokheng, an employee at one of the many garment factories near the Phnom Penh Water Park area, is one of the few workers Post Property spoke to who is aware of the law and has voiced out.

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Garment workers in front of their homes. Hong Menea

“I said [to my landlord] my salary has only increased $5, why is the rent increasing, too? But they just said they had to do that, and many of the places around here have also increased their rent,” she said. Sokheng would not have any complaints if the money from the rental hikes goes towards developing the room’s living conditions, but, according to her, it does not.

Another factory worker from the same area, Sreyno, had also heard of the law from other workers but “whenever the government announces a salary raise, the landlord will raise the rent as well.”

While worker Pon Sreypich has not heard of the law at all or of any landlord practising it, her rent had also gone up by $5 after the government’s last increase of the workers’ minimum wage.

“I heard that the rent increase is 50 per cent of every salary increase, but not all landlords are like this,” she added.

Nearing the end of their lunch break, droves of workers filed out from their housing headquarters to walk about 400 metres back to their respective factories. Meanwhile, several landlords nearby declined to comment on the law or disclose any information on their rental prices, claiming that they were too busy to respond, and promptly turning their backs to continue watching the television.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Union Federation, affirmed that no further action has been taken after the law was passed, saying, “while most landlords are aware of this law, they still increase the rental price anyway because there is neither active enforcement nor any authorities to clamp down on them.”

“The rent control law should be enforced by the relevant ministries and local authorities. If local authorities coordinate with the workers, complaints will be heard, but if not, [workers] do not dare protest for fear of being kicked out by their landlords,” he said.

As with many other laws that are not respected, implementation – or rather a lack of it – is the main hindrance to the rent law ever being properly enforced, Thorn said.

While rental prices continue hiking up every time there is a workers’ wage increase, there is little wonder why the law – half a year on since its passing – bypasses landlords’ compliance.

Phnom Penh’s City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche revealed that since the signing of the bill seven months ago, the government has yet to hand over any designations to which ministry should oversee the rent control law.

“We have yet to receive a sub-decree … normally, when a law is implemented, a sub-decree is sent out to determine how the law should be regulated. But we haven’t received that.”


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