As the FIFA World Cup 2022 draws closer in Qatar, local residents speak to Doha News about the impact of escalating rent prices on their lives.
Qatar resident Haniya has moved houses nearly three times over the past 8 months already, compromising her safety by living with strangers in order to afford Doha’s increasing rent prices.
The high-achieving international student graduated from Georgetown University in Qatar in 2020, and was excited to move back to Doha after landing a job in December 2021. Nothing, however, prepared her for the fact that she would have to consider leaving the city during the most anticipated event of the year.
“I have nowhere to go after my current lease ends in October because the landlord already said they will increase rent significantly and I can’t afford it, ” said the 25 year old, who lives in a shared three bedroom apartment with two roommates she found on Qatar Living.
“I couldn’t find an all women apartment so I had to choose living with a man and a woman, even though I am not really comfortable around men. I sleep with my doors locked, and even though he seems nice, I just don’t trust men,” she added.
Haniya’s story is not an isolated incident. Doha residents across the country are reportedly struggling to afford increased rent prices, which many have attributed to the World Cup.
In some cases, landlords are seeking to capitalise on the profits visitors will bring to the country, making living conditions for the long-term residents a difficult ordeal.
As the World Cup approaches in less than three months, residents in the Gulf state have reportedly been served with eviction notices, asked to sign either short-term lease agreements or 24-month lease agreements, or even had their rent significantly increased.
Even though high rent prices are affecting many across the country, the situation is worse for low income residents like Haniya, who cannot afford to move elsewhere immediately when evicted.
Adopting new living arrangements
Some residents have been forced to think about downsizing to smaller places, finding roommates, sharing family villas, or even taking on mulitple jobs in order to survive in Doha without being homeless.
When rent prices started increasing in October 2021, Dana, a Moroccan resident in Doha working in a research institute, had to move to a new apartment. Moving from a cheaper apartment which included utilities to a more expensive one with additional bills put a dent in her wallet.
“My rent increased from 4000 QAR to 9500 QAR, so I had to take on extra consulting projects on the side and outside my regular working hours (weekends and evenings), so that I can maintain the same lifestyle. I am worried now, with my lease coming up for renewal in November, that the landlord might ask for an even higher rent. I don’t know what to do then,” Dana told Doha News.
Dana moved to Doha in 2016 for work. She was mostly looking forward to hosting her siblings for the first time during the World Cup, and is now concerned that the high rent prices may prevent her from doing so.
On average, proprietors can raise rent prices up to 10% a year, according to Shahzad Ali, a strategy executive based in Doha. To attract more revenue during the World Cup, the government removed the rent price cap in 2022, allowing landlords to charge up to “15,000 to 20,000 QAR per night,” he claimed.
“They [landlords] are trying to capitalise off the World Cup period where a price rise cap has been removed by the authorities. It’s a cost-benefit analysis and for small landlords, the business case makes sense to ask the tenants to leave,” Ali told Doha News.
Under Qatar’s tenancy law, landlords are prohibited from evicting residents abruptly without an official written notice of termination, at least one month in advance. However, sources told Doha News that some landlords have been abusing their power, terminating lease contracts out of the blue and increasing prices without prior notice.
“It was alarming when my landlord announced rent was increasing from 8,000 QAR to 8750 QAR via WhatsApp, with no official letter,” said Aiza, a 22-year old recent college graduate in Doha. “My roommates and I didn’t know if the rest of the tenants in the building were going to suffer the same immediate increase.”
Initially, Aiza’s landlord had increased rent in the same month from 7500 QAR to 8,000 QAR, with the landlord explaining that it was because of an increase in gas and water prices. The next spike however, which was announced on Whatsapp, was done without an explanation. This lack of transparency pushed Aiza and her roommates to leave abruptly and find another, cheaper place to live.
Residents who find themselves in similar situations are allowed to take landlords to court by filing an official complaint to the Committee for Settlement of Rental Disputes.
Even though landlords are allowed to increase rent pieces ahead of the FIFA world cup, it is still illegal to evict residents suddenly or increase prices prior to the end of the lease term.
Large families struggle to find a solution
While compromising comfort might be a solution for some, it is not a feasible option for big families and single parents.
When Hamza went to renew his lease in recent months, he was told suddenly that rent will increase from 6500 QAR per month to 10,200 QAR, with no viable explanation from the landlord.
He and his family of eleven have been living in Doha for two generations. Hamza’s father came to Doha when he was 20 years old, considering the Gulf country to be his home until his last breath. Now, Hamza and his family are expected to move out of the house they grew up in to a cheaper villa, which also extends his commute from and to work.
“Since we are a big family, it would not be possible to share a house with other people,” Hamza told Doha News. “We now have to budget each and every expense we make, and think twice before buying our necessities.”
With less than 80 days until the grand tournament, stories like Hamza’s are becoming more common by the day, revealing the impact of mega-events on accommodation availability in host countries.
Pandemic budget cuts and salary reductions
Some residents have been struggling to afford high rent prices mostly due to salary reductions attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abdulrahman, a Pakistani resident in Qatar working in the government sector, was born and raised in Doha, and his family have been living here for decades. His grandparents moved to Doha 50 years ago, and have lived in Qatar ever since.
They are now considering permanently relocating to Pakistan as their living conditions in Doha are becoming intolerable due to the high rent rates mixed with pay decreases.
“Before the pandemic, I had a salary of 8500 QAR per month and rented a home for 5000 QAR with my family here. Suddenly, the salary was reduced by 30%. What can you do with a 6000 QAR salary with a family to provide for and rent to pay?” he tells Doha News.
In June 2020, the Ministry of Finance announced that all government entities were slashing their budget for non-Qatari wages by 30%. The reason given at the time behind this decrease was COVID-19 budget cuts, but sources told Doha News that these salaries have not been raised back post-pandemic, making it even harder to afford increased rent prices.
The salary decrease has drained savings for families like Abdulrahman’s, with the wages he makes now being spent primarily on rent and other basic needs.
“I am worried that if this continues, we will have to leave and go back to Pakistan and try to make something back in our countries,” Abdulrahman added.
“For those of us who have lived here since our childhood, this situation is very unfair. Our grandparents came and settled here, but now we can’t even afford basic needs. The government should increase the salaries again so everything becomes good.”
Need for accountability
The upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022 will continue to spike up prices nationwide in the coming weeks, according to a report by Oxford Economics.
Apartment rentals are anticipated to rise further as supply becomes more limited, and landlords are more likely to insist on 2-year leases in order to capitalise on the rental inflation and lessen the effects of declining demand in 2023, the report added.
Residents who have been affected by illegal evictions and rising rent believe the government should intervene to help those who are struggling.
“Officials must prioritise housing for residents and put price cap regulations because it doesn’t make sense how [my family and I] should be pushed to leave for a one month tournament when I was born and raised here,” a resident told Doha News, stressing that Qatar is his second home even though he doesn’t have Qatari citizenship.
Other residents have suggested that Qatar could provide unemployment relief and stimulus checks to non-Qatari residents for a limited period of time, which would help low-income residents who are struggling.
The current rental increases in the country are expected to decrease in 2023 after the World Cup, due to lower demand, according to a recent Cityscape Intelligence Report.
In the last year alone, rent prices in Qatar have risen significantly with some exceeding more than 50%.
*The names of all sources have been changed to protect their identities.