Although exceptional entry permits have been introduced to help residents return to Qatar, many are still stranded outside the country and paying rent for the empty homes they’ve left behind. Doha News shares their stories.
Despite the unprecedented circumstances of 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, many landlords in Qatar have been unwilling to negotiate their rental agreements with tenants who have found themselves stuck outside the country. Renters are trying to manage this difficult situation while their chances of returning to Qatar rest with the Ministry of Interior, which allocates exceptional entry permits.
Doha News spoke to some of those tenants to find out about the challenges they’re facing.
The Pearl: “It’s an incredibly stressful situation to be in”
Tenants at one of Qatar’s most sought-after residential areas have had mixed experiences when it comes to negotiating their rent while out of the country.
Ranvir, a Pearl resident, says: “For the past seven months I haven’t been able to pay rent for my empty two-bedroom apartment as I’m stranded outside of Qatar with no work and thus no salary. My real estate company was understanding at first and allowed me to delay payments but they have now begun threatening legal action against me if I don’t make my payment soon. I still have no idea when I will be coming back into the country.
“It’s an incredibly stressful situation to be in. I wish they could waiver at least two or three months’ rent since […] I’m clearly struggling to find the funds. At the same time I know I have been lucky compared to friends of mine. Some landlords are offering no payment deferrals and no alternative but to vacate the property, despite not being in the country physically.”
Murad is another Pearl resident whose landlord has been open to negotiating a delay in payments. He explains: “I suggested paying less now and extending my contract for two years. But at the same time, my job contract could be cut short due to all of the uncertainty of this time. I will only know my true capabilities when I’m back in Qatar and can discuss the possibilities of extending my job contract with my company. It’s all a mess.
“I’ve been paying rent to my landlord for the last two years without a single late payment. I’m now transferring him 75% and the remaining 25% of each month will be deferred until next year.”
Doha News spoke with The Pearl Gates Luxury Realty for their side of the story. They responded:
“As per tenancy agreements between the tenant and the landlords (individual owner) and the management companies (cooperate owners) it’s completely up to them to waive off the monthly rent if the tenant can’t enter the country yet. The landlords still have to pay fixed bills and service charges for the properties and also take care of maintenance whilst the property is empty.
“There are a lot of landlords these days adding free months to the rental contracts and extending contracts to 13 or 14 months. Ultimately landlords and management companies have been hit just as badly by all of this and they too have their livelihoods to protect.”
One Pearl resident, Richard, disagrees vehemently. He says: “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that I am paying for rent in a country that I live and work in but am not allowed to return to. These landlords have no compassion or feelings, they are completely selfish,” he says.
“Our valuables are packed in our car”
It’s not just residents at The Pearl who are having to test their negotiation skills. Across Qatar, others have experienced different levels of cooperation from their landlords and rental agencies.
Rachel lives in West Bay Lagoon. “We were lucky enough to find a tenant and transferred our villa contract to them soon after COVID hit,” she says. “We then got friends to help move our valuables out of the villa and sold our furniture.
“Our valuables are packed in our car, which is at a friend’s place. We have no idea when we will be able to come back into the country; we are patiently waiting and know how lucky we were to find an alternative.”
Al Wakrah resident, Maryam, successfully negotiated a reduction in rent with her property’s owner: “After much pleading I was able to come to an agreement, paying what I can for four months until we renew the contract. Thankfully we were able to negotiate on this.”
Maryam adds: “It’s business at the end of the day and I believe that since the owner has been patient and understanding, I need to give them the same in return.”
Kelly lives at Msheireb Downtown Doha. Her landlord has reduced her future rental payment. She explains: “We kept paying rent for seven months whilst we were stuck in the UK. However our landlord has now very kindly dropped our monthly payment by QR 1,000 for the next year. He is a local guy and very kind. Although he did not spare us the rent of the past seven months we appreciate his gesture going forward. Your situation totally depends on luck and how understanding your landlord is.”
What many people have been asking is why the government has not stepped in to help landlords wave or defer rent payments like it did with the commercial sector. Much has been made of the 75 billion Qatari Riyal fund dedicated by the government to help the economy get through the pandemic, why is none of that money being dedicated to help ease things for those stranded abroad yet still being forced to pay rent?
As the planned end of Qatar’s phase-four restrictions draws near, thousands of residents still await the re-introduction of permit-free travel so they can return to their homes and reunite with friends and family; until that happens the uncertainty and economic instability are becoming bigger and bigger burdens for many of Qatar’s families.