Rangoon’s Rising Rents Hit Lower Income Tenants

By Lawi Weng 13 December 2012

RANGOON—As Burma’s largest city goes through a long-awaited period of economic growth and investment following recent reforms, new problems are also beginning to arise for its residents as rental rates shoot up, squeezing the budget of many lower income families and forcing some to relocate.

Shwe Ya Thee, a civil servant who lives with her husband in Kamayut Township, said that during the past three years her room rent had doubled, from about US $58 per month to roughly $120.

“Our room rent goes up and up, but our salary stays the same,” she said, adding that the couple’s combined monthly salary was only about $250. “Now we cannot save money,” Shwe Ya Thee said. “In the past we could provide for our parents, but now we have to borrow money from them in order to afford the room.”

Aye Ma Ma said she had recently moved into a room in Latha Township when the landlord demanded a rise in rent from about $83 to $120 because of supposed renovations.

“Our room is not new, but the owner asked us for 100,000 kyat [$120] per month, because the room was renovated when we moved into it,” she said, adding that despite such rates the room comes unfurnished. “It is a headache to rent a room here,” Aye Ma Ma complained.

She said many people were forced to switch to more affordable rooms recently after landlords decided to break their agreements with tenants and increase rental rates.

In the course of this year, there have been many such reports of rents skyrocketing across the city, despite many apartment buildings being old, poorly maintained and at times lacking in proper amenities.

The rising rents are now hitting many among Rangoon’s large lower-income class, according to real estate agents, who said the situation is expected to worsen.

“Normal folks will have more problems [finding rooms] in the next three years or so, because there is a growing gap between the amount that they can pay and the amount requested by the landlords,” warned Seu Thei, a Rangoon real estate agent.

“Most people only receive salaries ranging from $30 to $120 per month,” said Kyaw Zwa Wai, another agent. “These people might be forced to start sharing rooms with three people” in order to find affordable living space, he added.

The agents attributed the rapid rise in rent rates to an increase in the cost of living in the city for everyone, including landlords, while a large influx of rural people was also fostering a growing demand for affordable housing.

They added that agents who help people find rented rooms had begun to ask higher fees for their services, further raising the costs for prospective tenants.

The rise in rates is also hitting expatriate residents of the city. A Canadian volunteer English teacher, who only gave her name as Kara, said her rent suddenly doubled to $120 per month and she was given a mere 24 hours to find a new place after she declined to accept the increase.

“The owner of the building only gave me one day to think about the rent cost, or else he would call the police to throw me out!” she complained.

May Ree Ko contributed reporting for this story.