The Phnom Penh Rental Housing Survey

The Phnom Penh Rental Housing Survey

The Phnom Penh Rental Housing Survey
18. Dec. 2014 by Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
pdf
Number of Pages: 71

Executive Summary

In the current development and economic climate of Cambodia, urbanization plays a major role. The promise of employment, savings, and a secure future has driven rates of urbanization to be amongst the highest in the South-East Asia region. The population of Phnom Penh has been calculated at 1.6 million, whilst the second largest city, Battambang, has a definitively smaller population of approximately 250,000. The speed of growth in Phnom Penh has brought increased urban poverty, as scarcity of land and appropriate housing and urban infrastructure pushes residents into precarious housing situations. Renters are an important portion of Phnom Penh’s population (although no exact or accessible figures exist to-date), and it is Sahmakum Teang Tnaut’s (STT) experience that the urban poor settlements of Phnom Penh are no different to the rest of the city in terms of renter presence.

Studies carried out by civil society and the municipal government on the situation of the urban poor, as well as STT ‘s work, have monitored hundreds of urban poor settlements in the capital. These studies include “The State of Poor Settlements in Phnom Penh, Cambodia” (by the Squatter and Urban Poor Federation, 1997), STT’s “The 8 Khan Survey” in 2009, the Municipality of Phnom Penh’s (MPP) “ The Phnom Penh Urban Poor Assessment” in 2012 and most recently, STT produced “The Phnom Penh Survey” in 2014. In addition to general survey work, STT’s research focus has typically focused on landowners threatened with eviction. It is clear today that the lack of any kind of accessible research on urban renters as a sub-group indicates that renters are a forgotten demographic group amongst urban poor.

In addition to their absence from census or survey work, urban poor renters are missing from policy. Beyond “encouraging the development of various types of housing units”, the Royal Government of Cambodia’s draft National Housing Policy does not put forward any feasible solutions for social housing, or access to basic living standards for poor urban renters. Further, although the Civil Code of the Kingdom of Cambodia does include a chapter on the general principles governing the terms of lease between two parties, there is evidence in this report that a vast majority of urban poor renters have no written agreement with their landlord. This leaves renters in a precarious position to make demands on their landlords, who can arbitrarily increase rent, refuse basic upkeep duties, or evict tenants without notice. Improvements in conditions for renters such as increases in wages are typically swallowed up by increases in rent and general inflation.

The Renter Survey, conducted by STT in 2013, aims to collate information on the demographics of renters in the urban poor settlements and to provide recommendations for government and other stakeholders to include urban poor renters in urban development plans. This piece of research focuses on tenant living environment and conditions, living cost, tenure security and safety. 37 locations were chosen for in-depth survey work. 

Demographically speaking, the renter sample showed that a vast majority (86%) of renters had migrated from provinces outside Phnom Penh. 6 main professions, or “Groups” were identified: street vendor, food and service worker, rubbish collector, urban poor (miscellaneous jobs), youth/student and garment worker. The majority of respondents have their own source of income, with only 26% dependent on others for income. Women (who constituted the majority of surveyed individuals) are mainly employed in the food and service sector and the garment factory sector.

With regard to the rental units themselves, these can consist of simply a bed, a room, a flat or a freestanding house. On average, the rental units surveyed were approximately 13 square metre, with families of up to 10 people sharing (whilst 4 was the average number of people sharing one rental unit). Most respondents (58.5%) selected their current rental unit because of the proximity to their workplace and schools. In addition, in certain cases landlords offered employment opportunities, or tenants could also conduct their business from their unit. 

This survey set USD 60 as the ceiling for rental fees – renters who pay more than this were not considered in this research. The average rent was calculated at USD 26.5. Further, although access to electricity (for 90% of respondents) and access to a private source of water (67% of respondents) is prevalent, the fees are typically charged by a middleman (eg: the landlord), and therefore at inflated prices. Significantly, though a majority of respondents had difficulties paying rent on time, this did not entail any negative consequences from the landlords of over three quarters of individuals surveyed.

In terms of tenure security, a huge 98% of respondents have no formal agreement with their landlord. Fear of eviction without prior notice was noted amongst respondents. In addition, the general issue of personal safety was considered in this report, with 62% of surveyed renters reported having been victims of theft. In conclusion, STT would like to highlight that there is a real demand and need for cheap rental options which can be found close to the place of work or study, or can be used for small business purposes. Informal relationships with landlords can be positive and even lucrative in the case of employer-landlords. Yet important questions of insecure tenure, dire environmental conditions, and personal safety remain prevalent when considering the conditions of urban poor renters. 

In conclusion, STT would like to highlight that there is a real demand and need for cheap rental options which can be found close to the place of work or study, or can be used for small business purposes. Informal relationships with landlords can be positive and even lucrative in the case of employer-landlords. Yet important questions of insecure tenure, dire environmental conditions, and personal safety remain prevalent when considering the conditions of urban poor renters. 

To address various issues such as the lack formal agreements between landlords and tenants, the
unregulated pricing of service provisions such as water and electricity, the lack of rubbish collection services, and the low quality of rental unit construction, several stakeholders must be involved. The Royal Government of Cambodia must commit to ensuring that conditions around leasing as outlined in the Civil Code are upheld, and must consider making adequate provision within the National Housing Policy for the rental situation of the urban poor. The services industries should also be involved, and are urged to consider the issue of landlords increasing the rates charged to tenants for electricity and water as well as to consider rubbish collection as a mandatory practice. Development partners can promote further enquiry into the situation of poor urban renters, and encourage the above-mentioned stakeholders to implement these recommendations so that basic living standards are met. 

Table of contents:

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 1
CHAPTER 2. BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY 3
     2.1 INTRODUCTION 3
     2.2 BACKGROUND ON RENTAL HOUSING IN PHNOM PENH 3
     2.3 RENTAL HOUSING - ITS POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE ASPECTS 3
     2.4 RATIONALE 4
CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH OBJECTIVES AND METHODOLOGY 6
     3.1 OBJECTIVES 6
     3.2 RESEARCH DESIGN / METHODOLOGY 6
     3.3 RESEARCH ETHICS 8
     3.4 LANGUAGE AND TERMINOLOGY 8
     3.5 LIMITATIONS 8
CHAPTER 4: HOUSEHOLD DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION 10
     4.1 INTRODUCTION 10
     4.2 FINDINGS 11
     4.3 KEY FINDINGS 15
CHAPTER 5: TENANT LIVING CONDITION AND THE ENVIRONMENT 16
     5.1 INTRODUCTION 16
     5.2 FINDINGS 17
     5.3 KEY FINDINGS 20

CHAPTER 6: LIVING COST AND TENURE SECURITY 21
     6.1 INTRODUCTION 21
     6.2 FINDINGS 22
     6.3 KEY FINDINGS 27
CHAPTER 7. SAFETY AND SECURITY 28
     7.1 INTRODUCTION 28
     7.2 FINDINGS 29
     7.3 KEY FINDINGS 30
CHAPTER 8: CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS 31
     CONCLUSION 31
     RECOMMENDATIONS 32
BIBLIOGRAPHY 37
ANNEX 38
ANNEX 1 – PHNOM PENH RENTAL HOUSING SURVEY 38
ANNEX 2 – MAP OF SURVEYED LOCATIONS 52
ANNEX 3 – CASE STUDY QUESTIONNAIRE 53
ANNEX 4 – RENTER FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSIONS (FGD) RESULTS 55

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