As the coronavirus crisis upended their livelihoods, tens of thousands of low-income people including day-labourers in Dhaka are struggling to pay their house rent.
Many landlords, who are fully dependent on the income from the house rent, are also in trouble to manage their family expenses since their tenants are seeking either a rent break or waiver considering their financial hardship.
Nurul Alam, a street vendor, lives in a tin-shed house with his family in the city's Rampur area giving a monthly rent of Tk 4,000.
"I used to earn Tk 300-400 every day by selling various cosmetic items in front of Anarkoli Market at Mouchak. But I've no income for nearly 10 days. I find it difficult to support my family. But my landlord is mounting pressure on me to pay his rent. I'm in a fix as to how I'll pay the rent and buy food for my family," he told UNB.
Tea-seller Selim Mia in the city's Shantibagh area said: "Law enforcers don't allow me to open my tea stall, stopping my earning. But I've to pay my house owner Tk 5,000 and the tea stall owner Tk 4,000. But I don't have any money. My family will starve if the current situation prolongs."
Rickshaw-van puller Ismail, who lives in a slum with his mother and four other family members near Malibagh Rail Gate, said, "Whatever money I saved earlier has run out. My landlord has asked me to pay the rent of Tk 4,000 by this week by any means or leave the house. I don't know how I'll manage it."
Abul Kashme, a landlord of a small tin-shed house in the city's Khilgaon area, said he gets around Tk 20,000 every month from his tenants as rent which is the only source of his income. "My tenants are requesting me to waive the rent or take it when the situation gets normal. But how I'll survive with my family if I don't get the rent."
In such situation, Bharatia Parishad, a platform of tenants, in a statement on Thursday demanded the waiver of three months' house rent.
Contacted, former caretaker government finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said the urban poor are facing a serious problem over house rent payment since they have no income. "But there's a problem that our government has no scheme for the urban poor to help overcome this."
He said the government can provide a grant for the extreme urban poor and day-labourers so that they can pay their house rent, at least partially, and buy food for their families.
Azizul said many landlords are solvent and they can voluntarily waive or hold off the rent of their helpless tenants until normalcy restores. "But many house owners also can't waive the rent as it's the main source of their income."
Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the government can introduce food rationing for them. "But giving any grant for them is probably not possible for the government as it is under serious pressure due to the overall situation of the country."
Mustafiz said the NBR can announce that it will waive some income tax for the house owners who will relieve their poor tenants from the burden of rent. Besides, the city authorities can waive the holding tax.
Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Syeed Khokan said their city corporation has only the option of waiving the holding tax for the house owners if they exempt their tenant from their house rent. "But it's still too early to take such a measure."
"We need to wait for a few days more and observe the situation. We also need to see what steps the government takes in this regard," he said.