Rip-off. Daylight robbery. Outrage. That is the growing sense on the growing trend of property owners in Harare and other cities that are increasingly charging in foreign currency, preferring the United States dollar, squeezing consumers.
Ironically, when it comes to paying off their dues, such as domestic labour and rentals, the property owners are not paying in forex, exposing their profiteering and greed.
Stakeholders who spoke to The Herald this week slated this practice, with some watchers noting that this could also be responsible for market distortions.
Harare Residents Trust director Mr Precious Shumba said it was unfair for landlords to charge rentals in forex, considering the prevailing economy challenges in the country.
“The residents have told us that a lot of property owners are demanding monthly rentals in US dollars. The tragedy of making this demand on lodgers or tenants is that we are all living under the same socio-economic environment where the US Dollar is scarce and costly to find,” he said.
He advised tenants to be given written notice of the changes and not to be forced to pay what they cannot afford.
“The HRT urges all tenants to demand lease agreements where the property owner must specify that they want their monthly rentals in US dollars. They must give three months’ notice of that intended change, and they must enter into a lease agreement to reflect the new changes. Tenants must be aware of their rights, and they must make them known whenever they are threatened,” said Mr Shumba.
Competition and Tariffs Commission former chairman Mr Dumisani Sibanda said: “What is currently happening in the market has to do with supply and demand. If property owners demand to be paid in foreign currency its means that you are forcing the tenants to get that money from the parallel market where the rates are very high.
“This can be regarded as an abuse of market power or probably it is a way of maintaining value of their properties at the cost of a tenant.”
Consumer Council of Zimbabwe executive director Mrs Rosemary Siyachitema advised landlords to be practical if they still want to realise value for their property.
“We can only advise landlords that are charging in forex to trade carefully because they will end up on the losing side. If they continue to charge in forex they will end up with voids as tenants will go elsewhere where they are being charged affordable rentals.
“They should not push tenants too far considering that workers are being paid in RTGS dollars,” she said.
A snap survey by this publication revealed that most landlords in the medium and low density suburbs are now charging rentals in foreign currency.
In Damofalls a full house is costing an average of US$250, while cottages, full houses and flats in areas such as Avondale, Greencroft, Mabelreign, Westgate houses cost between US$250 to US$500 per month.
In an interview, a tenant from Avondale said the new forex charges were beyond the reach of many.
“The situation has become unbearable because my salary is in RTGS. I am being charged US$200 for the house I am renting and I am looking around for cheaper accommodation since last month but it is not easy to get one with a reasonable price,” said Mr Brian Cherara.
Mr John Banda, from Mandara, said Government needs to urgently address the national housing backlog as a long term measure but regulate rentals as a short term measure.
“We need a fast-track housing programme, not only for civil servants but all Zimbabweans. In the meantime, systems must be activated to protect tenants.
“Psychologically, most workers are no longer productive as they are stressed over rent. Shelter is at the top, in terms of hierarchy of needs and if shelter is not secure, then the worker can no longer perform.
“How do we meet Vision 2030 with an unproductive workforce,” Mr Banda said.