Ranting about renting.
Please heed these words that I speak
I know you've suffered much
But in this you are not so unique.
– Bob Dylan
When does it stop? The standing and awaiting judgement from people who seem to be able to see straight through your clothes and underwear. First, it’s parents. Then it’s the principal type. (Actually, in my experience it’s always the vice-principal who screws you while the Principal walks around looking like Santa.)
And then when you are somehow done with all that crap, just when you think you’re finally free to be an adult, it’s time for landlords. Or landladies.
In this department, boy, it’s equal opportunity assholery.
Ever get the feeling that this country is controlled by the craziness of landlords? The bigger the piece of land, the bigger the craziness.
There’s the all-Brahmin gated community that advertises its exclusionism proudly on the front pages of newspapers – apparently it comes equipped with “Goshala, Veda Patashala, Yagnashala, Ayurveda Kendra and Temple Complex… We currently have a strong base of 800 members comprising of eminent individuals of the Brahmin community from all walks of life.”
Then there’s the dude who refuses to rent you a place at the very last moment humanly possible – just when you and your broker have arrived with the advance money and left the last shreds of your dignity outside with your shoes.
Ever noticed, the crappier the place you are renting the posher the landlord’s house? You have broken windows, what’s there? Landlady has an AC in every room. Your two-room place is at the back of the house facing the drain? At least the landlord has vaastu-proofed the parking lots for his two new Audis. Nothing is more bitter than the Coke the house help puts in front of you as your landlord genially raises your rent, and refuses to pay for the rewiring you had to get done yourself when your bedroom almost caught fire.
You’re always going to look like a potential disaster to your landlord.
How would you react if this happened to you? Say you were hanging out with a dozen people in your living room. You turn to do something on your laptop and suddenly, there’s a humongous crash! You turn around, and three of your friends have disappeared.
Turns out they’ve fallen through a giant crater where there was once the living room floor.
Your friends are lying shocked and bruised on the living room floor of the flat under yours. You edge around the hole in the room and run out of the house. You get out in terror and find your friends. You all stand outside the building gibbering in panic. The fire service has to come to rescue the ones unable to get out. They have to climb out from the second floor window.
Eventually, the hospital. And then come the police. Guess what your landlord does at this point?
He has someone put a lock on your front door and refuses to let you retrieve your belongings – even your passport – so you can’t er… move elsewhere. Sounds like fiction? Like a movie? Nope. Happened in Mumbai in 2013 to film critic Raja Sen.
Of course, landlords argue that tenants are the jerks. They don’t leave when asked. They ruin the houses rented to them. They are noisy. They are secret terrorists. They are thugs. They are robbers. They beat up poor landlords. They even murder little old ladies.
As far as landlords are concerned, tenants are potentially evil people even when they are a young couple with disabilities sleeping in their own room. They don’t need just tenant verification. They should also be put through a polygraph and psych evaluation.
So all said, shouldn’t we feel cheerful that this summer the Union government proposed a new tenancy bill? Things the new law proposes: Special courts to deal with rental issues, registration of all tenancy agreements, rent ceilings, limits to annual hikes in rent, and a final amazing thing: a limit of maximum three months rent as deposit. Sure, world peace too?
As if any law can outlaw those conversations you have to have with a landlord. No one, not even on Shaadi.com, asks as many questions as a potential landlord: business or job? MNC? Which religion? Which caste? What is your salary? What do your parents do? You bring women home? They come home in the evenings? What do you eat? Meat? What kind of meat? How much meat? Alcohol? Drugs? What is your father’s number? Do you take selfies? What is your Facebook password?
Is there any way of retaining your dignity while being asked these questions? Is there any way of not squirming on his ugly, expensive, too soft sofa? No.
No law can prevent landlords from saying: No lawyers. No journalists. No families. No single people. No students. No men. No women. No hijras. No locals. No people from other states. No Indians.
There are way too many of us looking for a house. Too many of us looking for a place that we can temporarily make our own, a place where we can drag furniture around, fix cheap crazy lights on, get the best sofa for, kill plants in, throw 48-hour parties in (who are you kidding, do you ever want to throw a quiet scrabble party?), live as adults in.
There are way too many of us who watched Friends when we were of an impressionable age and now dream of houses to make a glowing, friend-filled, hip ‘n’ happening life in.
And there are way too few of the folks who own the houses. So they’re the ones who get to be the jerks, while the rest of us get to smile, lie through our teeth and compliment his taste for putting neon yellow tiles in the bathroom. And agree to split the rent in three parts: a cheque to him, a cheque for ‘fixtures’ to his wife, plus ‘expenses’ in cash, heh-heh-heh.
No law can quite fix this modern urban war. Your landlord’s sofa is always going to be an uncomfortable place.
By Nidhi Bansal
Photo credit: Jamiecat*