National Assembly Passes Law on Rent Control

The National Assembly on Monday passed the Rent Control Law, which is intended to ensure that hard-earned wage hikes in the garment sector are not swallowed up by landlords.

At the end of a two-hour session that included little debate, 103 of the 104 lawmakers present voted in favor of the law, which gives renters two years’ protection from increases and the option to renege on a contract at any time. One lawmaker had left the room at the time of the vote.

“The objective of this law is to protect lessees, because without this law, landlords can rent their rooms to anyone, can raise the rent anytime, eliminate the rental agreement anytime or kick out lessees anytime because sometimes they just rent their rooms without contract,” CNRP President Sam Rainsy said in parliament Monday.

Mr. Rainsy, who announced plans to create the law with Prime Minister Hun Sen in February, hailed the joint initiative.

“This is a new positive outcome of the culture of dialogue that the Cambodian People’s Party and Cambodian National Rescue Party have initiated and been implementing together honestly because we work together and have joined forces to make our country [and] society more progressive and democratic,” he said.

The new law comes as the government prepares to sit down this month with employers and union leaders to discuss an increase to the $128 minimum wage in the garment sector, which employs some 600,000 workers, many of whom come to Phnom Penh from the countryside and rent tiny, cheap rooms on the outskirts of the city. It follows complaints that the three most recent pay raises granted to workers were immediately seized upon by opportunistic landlords.

Only one parliamentarian, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, raised concerns about the legislation. He said the implementation of mandatory rental agreements would provide opportunities for local officials to extort renters.

“The law requires certification by commune chiefs, and doing this generally requires money to be paid, which becomes an additional burden for workers and students,” Mr. Chhay said.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who in April published a list of predetermined prices for certain government services in order to stifle the flow of informal payments, or bribes, said that Mr. Chhay’s concern was overblown.

“I recognize that there may be officials who do wrong things at the local levels, but I don’t agree with the general judgment of the fact that all officials…charge informal money,” Mr. Kheng said.

Contacted Monday evening, Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, the largest independent union in the country, expressed similar concerns to Mr. Chhay, adding that the law did not address conditions in the apartment blocks surrounding factories, which often have three or more people sharing nine-square-meter rooms.

“The law should include the safety, size and environment of the buildings or accommodation places, because some rented places or rooms smell very bad and are not comfortable, while entrances are very small, which could be dangerous for workers and cause death when emergencies happen,” Mr. Thorn said.

Before coming into effect, the Rent Control Law must be approved by the Senate and signed by the king.

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