The High Court yesterday directed the police to accept tenants’ complaints against landlords in all cities of the country, and take immediate steps to protect them if they are forcefully evicted or their gas, water and electricity lines are disconnected illegally.
It ordered the government to form a seven-member commission within six months to fix minimum and maximum house rents based on areas and identify the reasons behind disputes between landlords and tenants.
The court asked the government to appoint a rent controller at every ward in the cities, subject to its financial ability, for resolving disputes over house rent until the commission places recommendations to the authorities concerned.
It also observed that a separate authority is needed for controlling house rents in cities.
Delivering its verdict on a writ petition, the HC ruled that the commission to be led by a legal expert nominated by the law ministry would give suggestions for resolving the problems regarding house rent.
It said the commission would record opinions of tenants and landlords and hold mass hearing, if necessary, and then make recommendations for reforming the House Rent Control Act 1991 to turn it into a comprehensive, multiple and complete law.
The HC hoped the government would amend the existing law in light of the commission’s recommendations.
The commission should include a university teacher, who is an expert on housing and urban issues; a distinguished economist; a senior official of the housing and public works ministry; an expert on consumer rights; a representative of the civil society and a city corporation official nominated by the LGRD ministry.
On the HC directives on police, Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque told The Daily Star, “If we get any complaint from tenants, we will look into the matter seriously as we must comply with the High Court order.”
He said they would have to carry out the order even though it would be an additional duty.
Terming the HC verdict epoch-making, petitioner’s counsel Manzill Murshid said it opened a door for tenants to get remedy from their landlords’ illegal and arbitrary acts.
Following the judgment, the number of house rent-related disputes would go down considerably in the future, he told The Daily Star.
Deputy Attorney General Goutam Kumar Roy, who had opposed the petition during the final hearing in 2013, said he had no idea whether the government would challenge the HC judgment in the Supreme Court.
The HC bench of Justice Mohammad Bazlur Rahman and Justice Md Ruhul Quddus came up with the verdict following a writ petition by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, a rights body.
The organisation filed the petition in April 2010, seeking court directives on the government for strict enforcement of house rent control act to prevent the capital’s landlords from raising house rents arbitrarily.
During the final hearing of the petition in April 2013, Manzill prayed to the HC for instructing the government to ensure that house rents are transacted through banks and mobile courts settle disputes over house rents.
He argued that landowners in the capital arbitrarily increase rents and evict tenants without any notice, defying the rent control law.
Deputy Attorney General Goutam opposed the petition, saying there were several rent controllers for disposing of complaints over house rent.
The HC order has caused mixed reactions among tenants and landlords.
In a statement, Bharatia Parishad, an organisation of tenants, hailed the HC verdict saying it would pave the way for a good relationship between landlords and tenants.
Sharmila Sarkar, a tenant of a house on RK Mission Road, welcomed the HC order.
“Most of the landlords we had in the last 10 years increased house rent arbitrarily without showing any reason. They didn’t serve any notice before forcing us to leave.”
“We are now hopeful that tenants would be able to approach police for remedy against such illegal actions by landlords,” she said.
However, Farida Khan Tania, a landlord in Dhanmondi area, was sceptical about implementation of the directives. “There are so many laws in the country but we don’t see any enforcement.”
Besides, if a new law is made, it would open up scopes for police to harass people, she added.
Yesterday, the HC bench observed that habitation, like food and clothing, is a basic necessity of people under Article 15 of Constitution.
The issues regarding house rent should be brought under the legal framework of the state, so that it is not left into the free market economy, and black market cannot be created centring this issue.
The HC said it was not provided with any specific data on how many people reside in their own houses or in rented houses.
Citing media reports, it said most city dwellers reside in rented houses and they have to spend major portions of their incomes on house rent. Renting out houses is a profitable business, as their owners increase rents when the demand for houses goes up.
The court said the House Rent Control Act 1991 is tenant-friendly. But this law has no effectiveness, as it cannot protect tenants.
Most of the cases filed under the law involved issues of commercial tenants, not that of residential tenants.
If the state does not control house rent, it is not possible to protect the tenants from such uncontrolled and disgraceful practices, it said.
If a landlord is found guilty of arbitrary activities, the maximum punishment for him is a fine under this law. Besides, in most cases, tenants don’t approach the controller due to time constraints,the court said.