May 2021- February 2022- The housing crisis exacerbates: who pays the price?
May 2021- February 2022
Since 2020, the Housing Monitor has been reporting on the increasing rate of evictions, alerting to a growing housing crisis. These come as a direct result of speculative market practices operating within a context that lacks a housing policy, relies on land as an asset for capital, and celebrates the heavy penetration of private interests in the organization of the housing sector. The disruption of economic activities, loss of income, and consequent lockdowns have exponentially aggravated the housing crisis and affected city dwellers across Lebanon. Nonetheless, this 10-month report illustrates that vulnerabilities are compounded for social groups and geographic areas that already suffer from forms of discrimination or marginalization. We are all struggling as a result of the consequences produced by the housing crisis, but not all in the same manner.
Between May 2021 and February 2022, the Housing Monitor tracked 148 housing threats that affected 606 people, including 275 children under the age of 18, 91 women living alone or with their children, 23 elderly women and men, 7 people with disabilities, and 2 queer people.
The aforementioned social groups make up the most vulnerable portion of society in relation to securing housing rights. While international law provides for special guarantees to facilitate their access to housing, members of these groups are often disadvantaged due to their diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and are usually pressured to accept unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions.
Women and queer folks are consistently discriminated against as they search for housing, on top of already being more vulnerable to experiencing harassment and/or pressure from their immediate surroundings or their landlords. Additionally, the presence of children influences women's frequent decision not to confront the injustices and violations committed by landlords, rendering them more susceptible to affirmatively responding to landlords’ unjust demands, often choosing to vacate their residences in order to avoid confrontation and ensure the safety of their children.
The absence of social safety networks also increasingly exposes the elderly to volatile housing situations, as they are especially unable to afford the increasing rent. People with physical disabilities are victims to the same lack of networks, and struggle immensely to find housing that suits their special needs. Elderly and disabled people also tend to be reluctant to report any housing violations at local police stations in fear of being subjected to discrimination in treatment within their walls. In the event of eviction, the difficulty of finding alternative housing puts them at higher risk of homelessness.
In terms of nationality, violation reports are distributed among a plethora , from Lebanese to refugees and migrant workers. The largest number of affected people are refugees (394 persons), followed by Lebanese nationals (145 persons) and migrant workers (67 persons). For a more detailed breakdown: 44% of the reports came from people who hold the Syrian nationality, 35% from those who hold the Lebanese nationality, and the rest from multiple nationalities including Ethiopia, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Palestine, Germany, Sudan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Togo, Sri Lanka, Gambia and Ghana.
By tracing the cases compiled by the Housing Monitor, it becomes increasingly apparent that Lebanese tenants are generally better placed to defend their housing rights in Lebanon. Compared to refugees or migrant workers, Lebanese nationals are more likely to firmly stand their ground and hold more vigorous positions during negotiations with landlords, not to mention their ability to utilize a number of legal tools including filing complaints against harassment and assaults or directly paying rent at a notary in cases where the landlord refuses to collect rent dues or insists on increasing them regardless of the legal contract.
This reality is due to the privileges inherently bestowed upon Lebanese nationals as opposed to non-Lebanese residents, given that the legal framework is biased towards them. Meanwhile, as a result of their legal and social status, refugees and migrant workers in Lebanon tend to lead more precarious lives. Their perilous state is often also a result of the expiration of their residency permits (or permitted period of residence) and their frequent inability to secure the legal documents and/or finances required to renew them. Consequently, a general reluctance amongst refugee and migrant workers to confront the abusive and illegal practices of eviction is palpable, for fear of the landlord’s backlash which may include reporting them to the authorities.
Geographically, the highest percentage of reports came from the following real estate areas in Beirut and its surroundings: 41% from Burj Hammoud (which includes Nabaa, Dora, and Burj Hammoud), 18% from Medawwar (which includes the Karantina neighborhood), and 9% from Rmeil.
Historically, the populations of these areas were formed during the heavy influx of communities as a result of rural-urban migration and the advent of displaced populations from the South of Lebanon, Armenia, Palestine, and migrants from other nationstates. As such, these areas currently house low-income and working class populations from diverse nationalities. These areas are also characterized by poor living and urban conditions, and the fact that the highest percentage of cases are reported from them is a further indication that it is indeed the most marginalized groups and regions that are paying the price for the worsening housing crisis. The highest percentage of reports from non-Lebanese residents also originate from the Burj Hammoud and Medawwar areas.
The rest of the reports came from other areas of Beirut (Ras Beirut, Mazraa, and others), greater Beirut and its surroundings (Furn El Chebbak, Dekwaneh, Hazmieh, Antelias, Bouchrieh, Bchamoun), and other cities (Sidon and Tripoli).
In examining the reported cases received from outside the main cities and their suburbs, we find that all of them were reported by Syrian nationals. The map of these reports includes Bar Elias, Bchamoun, Bhanneen, Al-Marj, Al Miniyeh, Saadnayel, and Siblin, which points to the areas where Syrian refugees have resettled in Lebanon. Among the reports, there have been threats to entire refugee camps such as the Al-Mays camp in Bar Elias where residents received threats of complete eviction as the landlord demanded an increase in rent to be guaranteed by an aid organization.
Looking at the geographical distribution of reported cases, we find that the percentage of reports from areas directly affected by the port explosion reached 24%, while the percentage of reports from adjacent areas was 45%. These numbers indicate a flagrant violation of Law 149 (on the protection and support to the reconstruction of the areas affected by the Beirut port explosion), which stipulated the extension of lease contracts in the damaged buildings and apartments for a period of one year, thus protecting tenants from eviction for a year after their contracts end. Nevertheless, the percentage of reports from these areas reflect the resident’s severe misinformation around their housing rights, especially as there were no official attempts to enforce the aforementioned law. The absence of an equitable, systematic and clear restoration plan also exacerbated the situation, as landlords took advantage of reconstruction efforts to increase rents to levels that exceed the financial means of most residents, which itself led to a significant rise in eviction threats. A breakdown of these dynamics will be exhibited throughout this report.
Reports (144 of them) are distributed according to the type of rent, which are predominantly new leases agreed upon either verbally (68.8%) or in written format (22.9%). Older leases also account for 8.3% of reports.
Tax evasion is not the only reason for the growing number of landlords who refuse to give their tenants written leases. Most landlords prefer the flexibility given to them by the absence of a written contract, which allows them to freely adjust the price and duration of the lease, and also enables them to terminate the lease at their own will.
However, that the absence of a registered lease puts tenants at legal risks or situates them in an illegal category is a misconception shared by the majority who have been forced to accept this condition, a situation which leads them to easily succumb to the demands of their landlords.
Out of 141 cases, 56.7% reported that their rent leases did not exceed three years and a few were for the duration of one year, which indicates a clear violation of the rent law. Despite being overtly biased in its promotion of real estate investment rather than sustainable housing, the Lebanese rent law requires the responsible authorities to control rental values, as it also maintains the right to the rented space for three years, ensuring that landlords do not have the right to increase rent or terminate the contract during this period. The Monitor received 51 reports for contracts which duration lies between one and three years, 26 reports for contracts between three months and one year, and 3 cases of contracts made for a period of less than three months.
It is also striking that the highest number of reports came from tenants whose rent costs did not exceed 675 thousand Lebanese pounds (89 reports), which points to a plunge in the statuses of those who have relatively lower rent costs.
The majority of reports (61%) additionally revealed that the value of their rent costs exceed the value of minimum wage by two thirds, while 35% of them are higher than the aforementioned wage. In contrast, 51% of the reporting families and individuals generate an income which does not exceed the minimum wage (675,000LL) and 17% earn no more than double the minimum wage (1,300,000LL).
As rent has become a huge burden in light of the continued inflation and ongoing crisis, it has also been noted that from a total of 46 cases, there were forty reports of families or individuals whose rent had been accumulating for more than three months. The cost of rent for the majority of these cases is between 270,000LL and 675,000LL.
This is a direct consequence of the state’s intentional decision to turn a blind eye to the vast majority of people who still receive their monthly earnings in Lebanese pounds, as well as their complete denial of the stark devaluation of the Lebanese Lira’s exchange rate against the US dollar. In the interest of the absolute majority of the population, state institutions must carry out their responsibilities of regulating incomes, implementing mechanisms to determine the minimum wage, and protecting tenants by keeping rent costs low through a fair system of rent control, aside from the role of unions in securing the rights of workers in this process. Why is the state absent when so many residents have been consistently suffering from destitute conditions and continue to be deprived of their right to housing?
As a result of this absence, threats continue to escalate. With the intensification of the economic crisis, landlords are persistently increasing rent costs, and doing so at an outrageous pace. Many of them have sought to “dollarize” the rent, as 74% (out of 77 cases) reported receiving threats of eviction related to increasing their previous rental value and 19.5% of cases related to new requirements to pay in fresh dollars.
About 4.6% of the families and/or individuals behind these reports are being persecuted, while another 4.6% have received written warnings. The rest are being subjected to verbal threats and other arbitrary actions including forced evictions, forced entry, discrimination and the cutting of basic supplies including electricity and water, in some cases.
In total, 78 cases of threats of eviction accompanied by arbitrary practices were documented. Threats of forced eviction without any legal justification constitute the most common violation (27 cases), followed by repeated threats (19 cases), verbal abuse and discrimination (13 cases), and water and electricity cuts (11 cases).
Evictions, a large portion of which are arbitrary, also compose a part of the harsh conditions experienced by residents. In total, 20 evictions were documented, one of which led to homelessness in Karm el Zeitoun, and half of which were arbitrary. In violation of Law 194/220 which requires the protection of tenants in all damaged buildings, 7 of these cases occurred in areas affected by the Beirut port explosion. In most of these reports, the threat of eviction by force was often repeated and accompanied by a set of other arbitrary actions including forced entry and cutting off water and electricity supplies.
We have also documented the destination of the evacuees. Of the 20 cases that were evicted, 5 of the informants managed to stay in the same neighborhood close to their socio-economic connections, knowing that one of them had to move to a damaged apartment. While five of the cases had to move outside the neighborhood, one of them had to move outside of Beirut. Four of those 20 reported cases were forced to seek refuge with relatives and friends following eviction, to avoid homelessness
In all 20 cases, we also documented the aftermath and consequences to the evacuees’ housing statuses, five of whom managed to secure housing in the same neighborhood, in order to remain close to their socio-economic connections. It’s worth mentioning, however, that one of them had to move to a damaged apartment. Five of the families or individuals within another batch of eviction cases had to relocate outside of their neighborhoods, one of them even outside Beirut. To avoid homelessness, four of the cases had to seek refuge with relatives or friends.
With the absence of a coherent plan to restore the housing units damaged as a result to the Beirut port bombing, and by transferring the bulk of the restoration responsibility from public institutions to non-governmental organizations and the private sector, all efforts to restore Beirut’s damaged areas have become a political battlefield, which generates grave concerns over the status of housing security in Beirut. This harsh reality simultaneously threatened the ability of neighborhoods and their residents to recover, both socially and economically. The relationship between evacuation endeavors and the reconstruction approach which only sees the built environment from a technical standpoint, disconnecting it from the economic effects of the reconstruction process itself is in actuality, not only theoretical, but certainly experienced as a practical reality as well.
The Housing Observatory recorded 20 cases facing threats, following the interventions of non-governmental organizations, 6 of which were eviction threats affecting whole buildings, making the total number of affected families 34, the majority of whom are in Karantina (17 families), followed by Burj Hammoud (12 families). As for the threats which occurred in the post-reconstruction phase, 18 documented cases were related to the pressure to increase rent costs, 8 cases to experiences of consistent pressure or eviction demands, and 7 cases were related to dollarizing the rent.
A year and a half after the bombing, 13 cases are still living under threat, 8 cases have been forced to evacuate (2 Lebanese, 6 refugees/migrants), and 11 cases were forced to agree to new conditions. Adapting to new conditions is often associated with illegal pressures, harassment, and a complete lack of alternatives. These cases highlight an emerging approach which entails gentrification generated by NGO-led initiatives which undermine affordable housing options within the affected areas.
But these cases are not just numbers. They have names, faces, lives, stories. We will share some of them with you.
On the day of the port bombing, residents of a building in Karantina found the homes which they had inhabited for more than 15 years, in complete ruins. On the next day, and as soon as they began repairing their houses which they individually financed, the landlord arrived at the building to check up on damages and demanded a rent increase. Reine, a Lebanese woman who lives on the first floor, agreed to the increase but refused to pay more than one million Lebanese Liras (the landlord was asking for 1,800,00LL). She also managed to convince other tenants to reject the increase and refuse to pay more than that. In retaliation, the landlord demanded an increase in rent to reach 3,000,000LL, effective next year, that is, upon lease renewal. Obaidah, a Syrian national who lives on the first floor in the apartment adjacent to Reine’s, on the other hand, received a written warning for eviction.
A few months later, Reine managed to reach a compromise with the landlord by agreeing to pay a monthly rent of 1,500,000LL, despite being pressured to increase the amount, while Obaidah and his family decided to leave the apartment.
Through its legal committee, the Housing Monitor works on providing legal advice as well as the necessary legal aid to support residents in their struggle to defend their housing rights. Over the past ten months, the Monitor has given legal advice to 94 cases (which included informing the residents of their rights, giving the necessary instructions and directions to adhere to their positions during negotiations with the landlords, identifying the legal tools that they can use to ward off pressure and harassment from landlords), legal follow-ups by the Monitor's lawyer to 32 cases, and has coordinated negotiations with landlords for 18 cases either through a social worker or through a lawyer.
However, the Monitor is compelled to explore alternative ways to protect against the threats on housing, since the limitations of legal solutions are becoming increasingly blatant. This is, in itself, a result of the disruption of a number of judicial tracks due to the consecutive, simultaneous, and ongoing crises and police stations’ unwillingness to process tenant complaints, often on the grounds of the frequency of worker’s strikes and employees’ absenteeism.
Alternatives include finding a mediator among the landlord and tenant’s common acquaintances, if any, in an attempt to tend to the grievances of both parties. Organizing meetings at the level of the building or neighborhood to bring individual tenants who face similar housing threats together is another of these alternatives. Such meetings are also efforts to encourage residents to organize and mobilize against housing violations and establish social support networks.
This report identifies the points of intervention required from all fronts, whether official or otherwise, in order to protect the right to housing.
The Housing Monitor works on documenting housing threats, building collective solidarity, supporting the right to housing for all, and pushing for inclusive housing policies.
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