Chronicle: Chance for global talks on housing amid pandemic

Chronicle by Dr Sayed Iqbal Mohamed, is the chairperson, Organisation of Civic Rights & deputy chairperson of the KZN Rental Housing Tribunal in South Africa.

6 October 2020

The International tenants’ day (ITD)is observed around the world on the first Monday of October. Tenants and organisations promote awareness of housing and tenancy-related matters, such as tenants’ rights and obligations, affordable rental, evictions, housing shortages and the right to dignity. This year’s observance is forged by international solidarity brought about by the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tenants globally have experienced additional hardships and face evictions or evicted after governments lifted the temporary ban or freeze on evictions.

ITD owes its existence to the French tenants’ movement, La Confédération Nationale du Logement (CNL), the National Housing Confederation, the oldest tenants’ movement, which is 104 years old, protects the interest of tenants and first-time homebuyers. Thirty-four years ago, in 1986, the CNL proposed a special world day for tenants that was accepted by the council of the International Union of Tenants. It was decided that Tenants’ Day would coincide with World Habitat Day.  Since then many changes have occurred in most cities to provide better protection to tenants. Recently, in Dubai, where workers have few rights, new laws were introduced that surprised tenants. Landlords can evict tenants if there is a breach. Once the lease term has expired, a landlord has to provide a proper notice if he or she wants to sell the property or wants to self-occupy it.

A 12-month notary public notice is compulsory to evict a tenant if the landlord intends to sell the flat. If the landlord uses the sale as an excuse to evict the tenant, the landlord is prevented from letting it for two years. If there is no valid reason for the eviction, the tenant’s contract is extended by the Rental Dispute Settlement Centre. Landlords are also obliged to follow the rent calculator so that rent increases are not arbitrary.

In South Africa, the economic and social disparity is wide, with millions living in shacks, others renting from shacklords or from slumlords in formal private sector housing, social housing landlords, and from the municipalities and provincial governments. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the rental housing crisis especially for vulnerable and destitute tenants. Older women and those heading households as single parents and grandparents are at greater risk of becoming homeless.

The Swedish based International Union of Tenants (IUT) international tenants’ day statement emphasises the role of tenancy and housing. Housing as a fundamental human right has been central in the battle against the spread of the Covid-19 virus where it can be a matter of life and death. The spread of Covid-19 has drawn attention to the worsening pre-existing global housing crisis. Without adequate housing, it is impossible to carry out social distancing and good hygiene practices.  Around 1.8 billion people or more than 20 percent of the world’s population, lack adequate housing. The IUT therefore called for:

  • zero evictions from residential properties,
  • affordable housing for all including the homeless
  • direct financial assistance and rental payment funds for tenants.

According to the IUT, throughout the pandemic, many local and national governments have put in place mechanisms to protect those who are most vulnerable, including measures to address homelessness and evictions, as well as the provision of basic sanitary services. However, long-term interventions, focusing on reviewing the current approaches to housing and land are crucial, as they could significantly shape the success or failure of urban areas to respond to extreme events and future post-disaster recovery.

The International Tenants’ Day 2020 presents the opportunity to engage in a global discussion on the transformative impact of Covid-19 on the rental sector and to explore how to build societies back better, by leveraging the role of housing as a catalyst for progressively delivering human rights and as a foundation of people’s well-being. Issues around housing must be at the centre of sustainable and inclusive urban development. To achieve a sustainable transformation of cities and communities, there must be inclusive, affordable and adequate housing

In the light of this pandemic, the IUT calls on all stakeholders to participate. Cities must integrate the vulnerable, poor and excluded in overall city development. Governments need to re-shape policies, strategies and legislation for diverse housing solutions for all, including the vulnerable, the poor and excluded as well as the key workers and middle income groups.

The IUT is willing to act as a hub to coordinate and share information about rental solutions and best practice for tenants, and has invited its members in 47 countries (including the Organisation of Civic Rights) to share their activities and campaigns. Each national, local or regional organisation will be able to design their own additional activities and celebrations of the International Tenants’ Day if they so wish.

Marie Linder, President of the International Union of Tenants called on governments, local authorities and cities to make sure that:

  • no tenant gets evicted from residential properties,
  • there is affordable housing for all including the homeless and
  • there is direct financial assistance and rental payment funds available for tenants in need.

On International Tenants Day, tenants in South Africa will share their common suffering with others around the world. Governments are hard pressed to catch up with decades of unmet rental housing. Every person is dignified and sacred and must be assured the right to secured suitable, decent, affordable shelter. In this context, South Africans can identify with the traumatic experiences brought about by evictions not only in South Africa but in other parts of our global village.

Dr Sayed Iqbal Mohamed, is the chairperson, Organisation of Civic Rights & deputy chairperson of the KZN Rental Housing Tribunal. He writes in his personal capacity. South African Tenants in need of advice during the lockdown period, can contact the office on 031 3046451 or WhatsApp Pretty Gumede on 071 346 5595 or, Loshni Naidoo on or WhatsApp 0714445671.

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