Women renting houses face gender bias in Saudi Arabia

Many women are complaining of unfair treatment on the part of real estate offices that is causing them needless hardships

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Many women are complaining of unfair treatment on the part of real estate offices that is causing them needless hardships. They claim many real estate offices show gender bias and are refusing to sign rental contracts in women’s names.

Real estate experts, meanwhile, said that the continuously increasing rents and a lack of legislation to regulate the property sector are the main reasons for such refusals.

Saroof, a divorced Saudi woman, said she had encountered a series of hurdles before being able to rent a house. She had pleaded with many real estate offices to rent an apartment, but they refused to do so.

She was finally able to rent a rundown house for SR6,500, but that amount was soon raised to SR8,000 without any justification.

She then shifted house, renting an apartment near the house she had stayed, but the real estate office insisted that she provide them with a letter from her son's work place. After clearing these hurdles she was surprised to know that the rent was SR16,000. She said she wished there were regulations to unify rental contracts and define rent prices according to the location and age of buildings.

Najlaa Hasan, a divorced woman who works in the educational sector, said that she too faced difficulties in renting an apartment in her name. Her salary is more than enough to pay the rent, she added, but she finally had to rent the apartment in her brother's name.

Furthermore, she noted that the property owner later offered to marry her and when she refused, he began harassing her by cutting off water and electricity supply to the apartment and raising the rent each month.

Faris Mohammad said that he visited a real estate office with his mother to rent an apartment on Sitteen Street and was told that the rent is SR45,000 a year. He tried bargaining, but was not successful only to later learn that the real estate office rented the same apartment to an expatriate for only SR30,000.

Salah Faisal, an expatriate, said that he pays SR25,000 a year for a rundown apartment in a 30-year-old building. He said that the building's walls and ceilings are cracking, and the electricity and plumbing works are deteriorating, but he has to pay the real estate office a SR500 commission every time he renews the rental contract.

Saad Mohammad, a real estate office owner, denied that real estate offices refuse to rent property to women. He said this occurred in the past because real estate offices found it difficult to visit women tenants to collect the rent, as such visits could be viewed by others inappropriately.

Khalid Al-Qahtani, another real estate office owner, said citizens are always late with their rents and there are many who have simply left their property without paying.

Saleh Al-Qebaisi, however, said that this may have been the case a few years back, and stressed that citizens nowadays are committed to paying their rents on time.

He said there are ways to recover rent even if the tenant leaves without paying. He cited the example of an expatriate tenant leaving his rented apartment without any notification or paying the rent, but had to pay up after he filed a complaint with the authorities.

He said if a woman is employed and provides a letter from her work place then there should be no objection for the real estate offices to take out a rental contract in her name.

The head of the real estate committee at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) said that it might be true that property owners are reluctant to rent their property to citizens, as such matters are left to the owner's discretion.

He stated that some real estate offices' refusal to issue rental contracts in women’s names was due to the sensitivity of the issue. "Real estate offices need to be regulated, as rental activities have a great impact on the property investment sector," he said.

He hopes that property owners and offices will join the "Ijar" system that was launched by the Ministry of Housing to regulate the relation between owners and tenants.

Lawyer and member of the national lawyers committee at the Saudi Council of Chambers Majed Qaroob said that Shariah laws give women the right to enter into contractual agreements. He noted that contracts are signed between owners and tenants, and owners have the right to rent their property to whoever they wish.

"There is no law that forces property owners to rent their property to a certain section of society, whether women, men, or expatriates, and it is completely up to the owner," he added.

Qaroob pointed out that real estate offices receive commission for renting residential units, and such commission differs from one office to another. He said that tenants who were harmed by property owners have the right to file a complaint against the owner with concerned bodies.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Feb. 22, 2013.

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