(First appeared in New Era 13 May 2015)
The saying “A man’s home is his castle” is an old English proverb and is often attributed to Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), an English jurist, member of parliament and writer, who used this principle to state that no one may enter a person’s home without permission.
The past two years I have been renting a double story flat in a complex close to the Social Security Commission. As my family has expanded to include a wife and baby I have had to start looking for a free-standing house or at least a flat without stairs as we fear our baby will be a little rough with his new walking ring. As I was looking through the various rental options, I once again realised that the price of rentals in Windhoek is going through the roof. This led me to look once again at the issue of rent control and its applicability in the Namibian situation.
The idea to enforce rent control is in place in at least 40 countries across the world. The idea of rent control is to promulgate laws or regulations that sets renting prices on residential housing as a price ceiling for certain types of accommodation. Generally speaking such laws dictate the frequency and degree of rent increases and is commonly indicated at a level less than the rate of inflation.
The arguments for rent control are a) a moral ground that housing is a human right which supersedes the property rights of a house owner. In this argument, the income a landlord may receive from a property should for example be no higher than 20% of a bond repayment for a house of this value; b) price control also gives the tenant the right to insist upon certain improvements being done on a minimum standard without the landlord being able to improperly adjust with higher rentals fees; and c) most importantly, the social dynamics of rent control (or to use the term correctly “rent stabilisation”), is an important one for consumer protection as the laws or regulations provide assurance to the consumer that they can maintain stability in their housing situation.
At present, there is a tendency among some landlords to insist upon an increase of 10% and sometimes higher from renters and they inform the renter to either pay this increased amount or move.
It has become painfully obvious that the main problem is not that rentals are increasing, but rather that the shortage of housing has led to there being many more people looking to rent than the number of houses available on the market. The local authorities have caused this problem through the slow speed of serviced land being available for new housing which has put a lot of pressure on potential home owners who now need to rent as there is no other option available. Thus the market is being skewed by the supply and demand equation that stipulates that prices will go up and where there is more demand than what can currently be supplied.
Thus looking at rent control and applying it in certain areas will help to keep the market in check, but in reality it is a solution that also has its downside. Most free market believers will point out that controlling rent leads to a reduction in the quantity and quality of houses available. While this argument is valid once all other factors are equal, we must realise that this could be short-term strategy to ensure that greed tendencies do not lead to the further impoverishment of our consumer especially in the lower and middle income families.
Perhaps a new debate should take place to talk not about land (as in farmlands) but rather a discussion of how to increase the availability of housing (a man’s castle) to more of our people.