As the capital of the second-most populous country in the world, Delhi sees an influx of migrants – both international and interstate – every day. Not only is the city equipped with all facilities and luxuries one might think of, coming from the hinterland, but it also offers opportunities to people coming from all strata of society. However, the city fails to live up to its metropolitan status when providing accommodation to its tenants.
“Delhi has all kinds of accommodations for all kinds of people. Yet, house hunting is always a struggle as people face issues with the landlords, locality, facilities, or the weather”, says Dhairya Goyal, a civil engineer from Lajpat Nagar. Dhairya had worked on a dissertation about the housing architecture of Delhi and the lacunae between empty houses and tenants in need of accommodation.
To begin with, Delhi’s cost of living is the biggest hurdle. “The places we loved were three times costlier than our rent budget, and the places within our budget were either dingy or had messy toilets and were located in messier localities”, says Vartika Doshi, who found a 2 BHK for Rs 19,000 in Lajpat Nagar, after failing to find a flat in Greater Kailash which was a walking distance from her workplace and brother’s house.
“If the flat is cheap, it’s because it has not been maintained properly. So, you have to pay the rent, but also spend more money to hire handymen to clean the bathrooms and kitchens because the owner barely cleans anything. And it is really expensive”, Vartika adds.
To add to the strained budget, brokers charge more money than usual when they see someone is in dire need of a flat, says Vartika. To avoid brokers – both offline and online, many have turned to Facebook groups to find a suitable living.
“There’s a chain of groups on Facebook under the ‘Flat and Flatmates’ brand for each city. Tenants post about vacant flats and rooms, and others respond to these posts. It’s a broker-free system, but some brokers are infiltrating these groups gradually. We have been searching for a flat in these groups but have been out of luck so far”, says Anagha Pandit, a resident of Pune, who is in Delhi to pursue her Master’s at Kirorimal College, while working as a freelance writer
When Anagha went to look for a flat near Jamia, she had a terrible experience with the flat owner as he interrogated her about her lifestyle, family, friends circle and much more.
“The owner was quite orthodox. He asked about my college and work timing and whether I would be able to reach home every day before 9 pm or not. Since he lives on the ground floor, he implicitly said that he will always know who visits the house and at what times. He also made it clear that he can’t have a “modern” tenant, meaning there were going to be a lot of restrictions on me while I tried to live independently in the city”, says Anagha.
Several single women face similar issues. Some are asked to follow a curfew, while others are morally policed. “They don’t see us as independent women. They see us as a liability. My elder sister, when searching for flats in Saket, was asked for our father’s number so that he can contact them whenever he finds anything suspicious. But who decides what is suspicious?”, says Anagha.
Shabir, a former classmate of Anagha, left his hometown Darbhanga and came to Delhi five years ago to pursue his education. He says he has repeatedly been subjected to discrimination in the metropolitan city.
“I was house hunting for a new flat two months ago. After reading his detailed Facebook post about a vacant flat available for rent, I called the flat owner. After discussing everything, he asks me, “Tum Mohommedian to nahi ho na? (You aren’t a Muslim, are you). And that was so disheartening because when I said I am, he said he would call me back in a few minutes. His next call, an hour later, was to inform me that his wife had suddenly found a relative to rent out the flat to”, says Shabir.
Recounting his house hunting experience over the last five years, Shabir says that initially, the flat owners used to ask him questions about his education, college, and the kinds of food he will eat in the house. However, the questions have become more intrusive now – not only for him but for several friends of his.
“My former flatmate Sidiq was house hunting two months ago – around the same time as me. The flat owner asked him the usual question – if he eats beef, and he said no. He then subtly tried to ask Sidiq what he does in his free time, what kinds of people he hangs out with, and which part of the political spectrum he leans towards”, Akhter elaborates.
The Housing Discrimination Project, in 2021, had collected information on the discriminatory practices against Muslims by society and how it leads to segregation which further widens the gap between communities. Metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi were primarily used to collect information for this report. The findings of the empirical research in the report stand true when Akhter describes his experiences.
While religion-based discrimination has been high in recent years, caste-based discrimination is also in practice when it comes to house hunting. Recalling her experience, Vartika says, “I’m not a Brahmin, but I am quite fair, which is wrongly generalised and associated with the upper caste. When we went to visit a flat in Subhash Nagar, the owner showed us the entire flat and convinced us to finalise it. At the time of submitting our documents, he saw my surname and asked, Brahmin nahi ho? (Are you not a Brahmin?). I said I wasn’t.”
The owner then went on to tell her that it won’t be a problem, however, he will not be able to reduce the rent, as he had promised earlier. “While negotiating the day before, he said he will rent out the flat for Rs 21,000 instead of Rs 25,000 as advertised. But just because I was not an upper caste, he denied it. It was quite a shock”, Vartika says.
House owners, resisting any liberal living choice, are also not on board with renting houses to live-in couples. Rahul* works with Amazon and was looking for a spacious 1 BHK for him and his partner near Saket or Mayur Vihar. “One of the owners, instead of simply denying us any living space in his three-storeyed house, insulted us. He morally policed us saying we are destroying the Indian culture”, he says.
Earlier, Rahul and his partner were living in a 1 BHK in Gurgaon by lying to the house owners that they were both married. “We had no other option because we needed that flat immediately. And making fake documents is an easy task. Luckily, there were no complications there because the owner wasn’t nosy. In our current flat though, the owner has no issues with live-in couples which is working great for us. People should live and let live”, he adds.
Though Delhi offers a wide array of opportunities for everyone across the country, it still hasn’t made house-hunting – a process that already takes a lot of time – hassle-free and lenient. “There’s a large crowd in Delhi which does not discriminate against people, but the ones who do, have the most impact on the tenants who come to Dil waalon ki Dilli. There’s a need to change this, and the collective responsibility is of the society”, says Goyal.
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Jayali primarily writes stories about gender issues, lifestyle, environment and civic issues in Delhi-NCR.