Legal Perspective [Archives:1998/36/Business & Economy]

September 7 1998
By: Dr. Salah Haddash
Managing Editor
Yemen Times
The law regulating house rental is the civil law. But there must be another law to provide more details about this matter. Many members of parliament are not in a position to objectively debate such a law, because most of them are real-estate owners. Tenants usually abide by all the commitments whereas the landlords have all the privileges in the rent contracts. This problem must be tackled urgently.
Renting houses and shops in Yemen can be done in different ways. It can happen through estate agents, who are responsible for drawing up contracts between the landlord and the tenant. They get a commission in return which can be the equivalent of one month’s rent. The tenant might pay the commission if he is supposed to pay the rent of less than 6 months in advance. But if he ought to pay the rent of more than 6 months in advance, the landlord and the tenant should share paying the commission. If the tenant has to pay the rent of more than 6 months, let’s say a year, the landlord has to pay the whole commission. This has become a convention and a rule. It might become one day a legal rule documented as a part of the rental law.
It is not obligatory that the letting of houses or shops should be conducted through real-estate agents. Some shops owners in any Yemeni city have a good knowledge of the houses and shops for rent. Therefore, they can be mediators between the landlord and the tenant, and thus get a commission similar to that paid to estate agents. The difference is that they don’t pay taxes for they are not registered as estate agents.
Rent Amount
It is really strange that there is no criteria for the amount of rent in a given area. It is left to the landlord’s fancy to decide that. But there are many factors that play an important role in deciding rent increase such as: is the property a villa or an apartment? The location of the house is another factor. Whether the house is old or new matters a lot.
Contract Duration
The contract duration for houses and villas is usually one year. But for shops it is 5 years, as stipulated by the law. But the problem is that after one year the landlord’s appetite for an increase in the rent gets bigger and bigger even if there is a contract which doesn’t mention any rent increase. The problem is to do with the landlord’s mentality, who may claim to have all the rights over the tenant. He can even demand to enter the house under the pretext of finding out what changes have taken place. The tenant cannot stop him as he is usually afraid of being kicked out.
The second reason is the fluctuation in the dollar exchange rate against the Yemeni riyal. When the landlord hears that the dollar has gone up raising with it the prices of foodstuff and other basic commodities, he soon asks for a higher rent, although this may not be mentioned in the contract.
Terminating a Valid Contract
Both the landlord and the tenant have the right to terminate the contract before it expires, provided that the party wishing to do so should inform the other side within one or two months. Some landlords use this clause to pressurize the tenants so as to accept a rent increase. In my opinion this clause should be used by the tenant only for the following reasons:
1- Changing the tenant’s workplace and the need to move to a nearer residence.
2- The desire of the tenant in getting a cheaper house according to his salary.
Handing Back the Property
Rental law states that if the tenant wants to leave the house, he should give it back in as a good condition as it was when he first moved in. Sometimes the tenant gives the landlord a month’s rent towards the repair and renovation of the house. This conventional rule is applied even though it is not mentioned in the contract.
But in case the house is in a bad condition and needs extensive renovation, the tenant has to pay the required money. Thus, usually a problem between landlord and tenant breaks out. This is because the tenant does not usually pay a deposit at the outset towards any eventualities.
It is well-known that Yemen suffers a lot owing to water shortages. Some zones in the big cities like Sanaa do not have a regular water supply. So people resort to buying water from privately-owned wells. Sometimes tanker cars are used to transport water to households at the rate of 500 riyals per tanker. Having a running water supply is one of the reasons why landlords demanding higher rents, regard such a service as a luxury.
Sometimes before signing the contract, the landlord asks about the number of the dwellers intending to live in the house. If the number of tenants is large, the landlord might ask for a higher rent forgetting that the Yemeni family is naturally an extended one.
If the landlord lives in the same building with the tenants or near them, he becomes furious upon seeing a lot of visitors coming to the house, because he thinks they are lodgers rather than just visitors.
Renting for unmarried males (because in Yemen females are not allowed to live alone) is a problem, particularly if the bachelor intends to live alone, without house-mates. Living within a group of men may ensure that a female will not be invited to the house.
The neighbors become angry and protest if they see any female entering the house of an unmarried male tenant, who has to prove that she his relative, for example. In Yemen, it is believed that if a man and a woman are together in one place it has no purpose but sex.
In spite of the fact that Islam forbids homosexuality, the entering of a man into the house of a male tenant does not arouse the usual suspicion associated with females. Thus, the neighbors become the monitors of the unmarried lodgers living near them. Sometimes they give him a hard time by reporting him to the landlord or even to the police, claiming that they have seen him with a girl in the house in order to get rid of him/them.
This means adultery. If proven the couple are punished accordingly. If not, the man and woman involved are accused of being together in a closed place without any legal relationship, a crime in Yemeni law.
In case the landlord accepts one or more unmarried tenants, he gives his conditions that he/they should not invite any females to the house; otherwise, he can kick him/them out. This is actually an interference with one’s personal freedom, which is a part of human rights that should be respected and protected by society and law.