“I can’t pay that!”: Turks terrorized by soaring rents

Cengiz Orsel, wood sculptor, hung a banner on the facade of his workshop, in Ankara, to denounce its owner, September 22, 2023 (AFP/Adem ALTAN)

On the exterior facade of his wood carving workshop in Ankara, Cengiz Orsel hung a banner to denounce its owner.

After 20 years of rent paid rubbish on the nail, the craftsman finds himself threatened with eviction by his lessor who suddenly demands almost 700% increase: from 3,200 Turkish liras (110 euros) to 25,000 (867 euros) per month. month.

“I wanted to make myself heard. With such demands, we risk seeing people fighting, to the point of stabbing each other,” alarms Cengiz Orsel who, at 58, fears having to leave his workshop and his profession at the same time.

According to Turkish media, 11 people have been killed and at least 46 injured in one year in violent conflicts between tenants and landlords.

A shop for rent, in the Cankaya district, Ankara, September 27, 2023

A shop for rent, in the Cankaya district, in Ankara, September 27, 2023 (AFP/Adem ALTAN)

Rents have increased by an average of 121% over one year in Turkey, an increase which reaches 188% in certain large cities such as Ankara, the capital, according to a study published in August by the University of Bahçesehir.

But still very far from the real inflation that Turkey is experiencing: continuously since the end of 2019, almost 60% over one year according to the government. But more surely closer to 130% according to a group of independent economists.

Faced with the outcry from tenants, threatened by soaring prices, the government capped the rent review at 25% for housing, aligned with the official rate of inflation for businesses.

But, according to experts, this measure has only aggravated tensions, pushing many owners to seek by all means, sometimes fraudulent, to get rid of their tenants in order to re-rent at a better price.

– Big arms –

A real estate agent from Besiktas, a very lively district of Istanbul along the Bosphorus, tells – on condition of anonymity – of tenants terrorized by big guns, sent by their landlord to convince them to leave the premises without discussion.

Others harassed with phone calls at all hours to make them break down and convince them to give up the premises.

Last winter, a landlord made headlines after demolishing his tenant’s door with an ax to forcefully evict him.

Lawyer Meliha Selvi, in Ankara, September 22, 2023

Lawyer Meliha Selvi, in Ankara, September 22, 2023 (AFP/Adem ALTAN)

“The number of disputes between tenants and landlords has exploded in recent times,” notes Meliha Selvi, a lawyer in Ankara.

Nearly 47,000 eviction trials and 100,000 others concerning rent reviews were opened in the first six months of 2023, more than double compared to the previous year, according to the local press.

“Tenants and owners find themselves in conflict while they are all victims of government policies,” denounces the lawyer.

Real estate agent Osman Cal, in Ankara, September 22, 2023

Real estate agent Osman Cal, in Ankara, September 22, 2023 (AFP/Adem ALTAN)

The deadly earthquake of February 6, which left more than 50,000 dead and millions displaced in the southeast of the country, further aggravated the situation, estimates Osman Cal, a real estate agent in the center of Ankara.

According to him, the rent for a two or three room apartment in the center of Ankara has jumped from around 2,500 pounds (86 euros) to nearly 17,000 (590 euros) in one year, an increase of almost 650%.

– Well above inflation –

Encouraged by the influx of displaced people, “landlords are asking for rent revisions well above inflation,” he says.

Ankara, away from the major fault lines that threaten Turkey, is considered one of the safest regions of the country.

“Owners feel wronged by the rent cap. But a civil servant, a retiree or an employee on the minimum wage has not seen their salaries increase as much and cannot pay the current rents.”

The net minimum wage reaches 11,400 Turkish liras (395 euros).

Arriving from Hatay (south-east), the province most devastated by the earthquake, to settle in Ankara, Meryem Altunlu is already dreading the revision of her rent next winter.

“I’m already paying 13,000 pounds (450 euros) with difficulty. If the owner wants to go beyond 25%, I would have to leave. I don’t know where to go,” she laments.

The lawyer, Me Selvi, already fears an aggravation of conflicts.

An apartment for rent in Ankara, September 27, 2023

An apartment for rent in Ankara, September 27, 2023 (AFP/Adem ALTAN)

“Tenants see their rights violated and owners feel wronged by the crisis. They accuse each other instead of holding the government to account,” she says.

Once the engine of the Turkish economy, the construction sector contracted by 8.4% in 2022 due to rising costs, according to official figures.

Despite new momentum after the earthquake, it is still struggling to offer affordable housing, explains the real estate agent for whom “all rents should drop by a third”.

“Developers prefer to build profitable luxury residences instead of social housing and the government lets it happen,” he accuses with annoyance.

© 2023 AFP

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