In many Hyderabad localities, there is a rent crisis

Several rooms have become available in the market in low rent localities, but there are no takers.
 Six months after COVID-19 pandemic, as one drives through the narrow bylanes of the slum, several To-let sign boards are visible.
Six months after COVID-19 pandemic, as one drives through the narrow bylanes of the slum, several To-let sign boards are visible.
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Mohammad Afsal runs Green Mini Mart supermarket at the mouth of the BS Maqtha in Begumpet, a densely populated urban basti that houses several cramped single bedroom apartments. “Every evening these narrow roads used to have traffic jams. But look at it now,” he says, pointing to the road, the streets are empty, he says.

Afsal is astute in his observation, the streets were indeed a lot emptier than usual. At BS Maqtha, the streets are narrow but used to be occupied by stray buffalos, people, as well as bikes and taxi drivers who had taken a wrong turn. The locality now bears a deserted look in the evenings with much fewer people in the streets.

“Many of the apartments in the locality are now empty,” says Afsal. This, even though the rent at BS Maqtha is a lot cheaper than neighbouring localities like Raj Bhavan, Ameerpet and Somajiguda. However, since the lockdown, a rental crisis is looming large as many of these apartments now lie vacant. Previous tenants have vacated and returned back to their native places, and owners are feeling the pinch of rental income losses as there aren’t many new takers for the houses. Six months after COVID-19 pandemic, as one drives through the narrow bylanes of the slum, several To-let sign boards are visible.

Lowering incomes

At Maqtha, Afsal is one of the few who has been able to make enough at his store to keep paying its rent, which amounts to Rs 30,000 a month. “Rent is my biggest expense. Though we are facing a 40% drop in sales, we have been able to manage because we are the only supermarket on this lane,” he says, adding that many of his regular customers have moved out of Hyderabad. 

Krishna, the owner of Delight bakery, had plans of expanding his business at the start of the year. “But now, I have had to drop all those plans. I had many contracts with IT companies for supplying them snacks and cakes. But with everyone working from home, I am not making any money. I have four staff to pay and I’m behind on one month’s rent.”

Krishna adds that several of his regular customers were the migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who used to reside in Maqtha. “They were stuck here during the lockdown and struggled for food. I fed them without charge for as many days as I could… they all left after the lockdown ended,” he adds. 

At commercial establishments too, the situation is similar. It’s quite unsettling to work at a mall that one used to remember as bustling with activity, recalls Ravi* a sales representative at Max showroom in Oasis Center at Somajiguda circle. “There are very few people walking in despite the festival season nearing,” he observes. Ravi is concerned about supporting his family as the lower footfall could exacerbate the struggle he is facing already due to a 10% pay cut. There are also fears that the showroom may shut shop altogether.

“The Splash showroom next door has already shut shop, and its staff has been laid off,” adds Ravi. The company paid his full salary for two months during the lockdown but has said that the paycuts now are needed to meet rental expenses of the store.   

Landlords feel the pinch

The situation seems bleak for residential building owners too. Sri Lakshmi, the owner of a building sub-letting single rooms in Maqtha, says that she used to charge Rs 8,700 per month for the ground floor room, including water expenses. However, she has since slashed the rent down to Rs 6,000. “What else can I do? There is no one coming to even see the place,” says the 54-year-old. The previous tenant was a man from Kerala who used to use work at a showroom nearby, but left the city after losing his job, she adds.

Mohammad Yasin, a member of the development committee, says there are many floors lying vacant at several apartments in the area. “This is a basti where a lot of people made apartments on a single floor by taking loans and began renting them and making it their main source of income. The cheap rent of the locality attracted workers mostly from showrooms, restaurants and students, but most tenants left in droves when the lockdown to contain COVID-19 was lifted.”

“Many families have lost their income and have begun investing money in chit funds despite its dangers. What else can they do?” he adds. 

Can’t pay, or expect full rent

At Ameerpet, Raju, the owner of a shoe retail store, sold his car this September to pay off his pending rent. He was provided with a three-month relaxation by his building owner based on a request made by the Telangana state government to building owners, urging them not to harass business owners struggling to pay rent.

“It’s ok, I am learning to live frugally now,” laughs Raju, as he talks about the sale of his car. “I am facing a 45% drop in business, and I haven’t taken any new stock this year. I am already behind one month’s rent. Thankfully, my house owner is not being pushy about the amount and says he just wants some form of payment – so say I am making Rs 2, I am expected to pay Re 1 for rent, however much that may be,” he adds. 

Shahbaz Khan, an anti-corruption activist from Mehdipatnam, makes a living by renting out buildings he owns for commercial establishments. “Several haven’t paid rent and I can’t force them to pay either. They hardly have any sales; from where will they give me rent? I can’t kick them out also because with the ongoing pandemic, who is going to start a new business? Even if someone does, what’s the guarantee they will be able to pay rent? So, the best thing to do is be patient and wait out the pandemic. It may take a year or so for things to get better,” he adds with resignation.  

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