On March 25, prime minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak. The same night, Pranav Vishnoi, a Delhi University student, was evicted from his rented place. Pranav lived alone in a private hostel serviced by OyoLife. On the night of March 25, his brothers came to the hostel so they could all stay together in a safer place. But his landlord not only evicted Pranav’s brothers from the property, he fired two property managers from the Oyo team for even allowing them in. Pranav said the staff were asked not to serve food to him.
Pranav called the police and they asked the staff to let them back in. “The harassment only increased after the police left, and within an hour, all five of us were evicted,” he said. “We were out on the road at midnight during a life-threatening pandemic.”
He reached out to Oyo to file a complaint, but to no avail.
Pranav’s isn’t a unique experience. A conducted in May by the Student Tenants Union of Delhi in May found that two thirds of the 1,400 respondents were being “forced” to pay rent. Nearly 28 percent of them said they were being threatened with eviction for not paying rent while 34 percent claimed that landlords threatened to forfeit their security deposits if they didn’t pay monthly.
In April, the Delhi government an order asking landlords not to force students to pay that month’s rent, but once the lockdown was extended there was no revision or follow-up order.
At Stanza Living, a corporate hostel in the capital, the residents whose contracts have expired but they haven’t vacated yet must pay a fortnightly fee for storing luggage. This came after the residents were forced to pay their full rent for the lockdown period. Abishri, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that she was a former resident at Stanza Living and she had gone home but had not vacated the room. She said that she had to travel 1,000 km to pick her luggage. “My father and I were made to wait on the footpath in the sweltering heat. We had empty suitcases and cartons with us. They didn’t unlock the PG until all our ‘dues’ were clear,” she told Newslaundry. “This happened despite my father having discussed and sorted out the finances with our resident captain the day before. Stanza insisted that we hadn’t cleared our dues. The ledger erroneously showed our security fee as Rs 30,000 instead of Rs 40,000.”
Abishri added, “They were not open to negotiation, they wouldn’t let us pack our luggage until we had paid them. They refused to return our security fee and charged us for services we didn’t even avail during the lockdown such as cleaning, food, laundry. We had to drive 1,000 km in a day in the middle of a pandemic to the worst-hit city in this country because of this heartless extortion by Stanza Living.”
The residents also alleged that the company didn’t do the housekeeping and maintenance of their residences despite charging them for all services.
The situation in standalone PGs and rented flats is no different. Landlords have been harassing residents who haven’t been able to pay the rent for the lockdown period.
Ashwani Varshney, a student of computer science at Delhi University, was a paying guest in Hudson Lane, New Delhi, said he went home to Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh on March 2 after duly clearing his dues. He said in the last three months he hadn’t been able to deposit his full dues and offered to pay 50 percent of the amount. Hearing this, his landlord threatened to “beat him up” once he returned. Ashwani and his landlord later settled the dues at Rs 30,000, a 13 percent discount on the full demand.
Lopamudra, who is from Assam, stayed in a flat near Zakir Husain Delhi College with four of her friends. She had returned before the lockdown was declared, but her flatmates stayed in Delhi. “It would have been difficult for us to pay rent for the lockdown period. So, after the Delhi government’s order, we decided to not pay. Our landlord started threatening us. He said he would throw us out and he cared little about any government order,” said Lopamudra. “He kept harassing us until we got help from the All India Students’ Association. This gave my flatmates a chance to quickly move out and store the luggage somewhere else.”
Asief Ali, a student lived in a rented apartment near North Campus, Delhi University, but he had returned home in Kerala after the lockdown was announced. He said that he wanted to move out of his flat to avoid paying rent. “It is high time the Delhi government issued an order and offered more clarity on the matter. They should waive off the rent for all students residing in flats, PGs, hostels,” he said.
In May, at least 13 residents of Delhi University’s Northeastern Students’ Hostel for Women were told to leave after their mess contracts expired. They were allowed to stay only after Jitendra Singh, the union minister for the development of Northeastern region, .
There was a similar case at the hostel of the Delhi School of Social Work. An order was issued by the hostel warden by the hostel warden asking students to vacate the hostel within two days. It was withdrawn after criticism of the hostel management and food was arranged from a nearby hostel.
Newslaundry contacted OyoLife and Stanza Living asking about the allegations made by students. While we didn’t receive a response from OyoLife, instead of replying to the email, a Stanza representative who introduced himself as Abhishek phoned this correspondent, saying we shouldn't go ahead with the story. They had reached out to every hosteller of theirs who could have spoken with Newslaundry and the matter was resolved, Abhishek claimed, so there was no need to publicise it now.
We asked him to reply to the emailed questionnaire, so that we could carry it as their response in our story. The representative retorted that he would much prefer we didn’t go ahead with the story and publish something positive instead because "these are stressful times and this story would be damaging". He went on to say we could enter into an arrangement for a positive story, and that he could help this correspondent in the future being a “senior in the industry”.
UPDATE: After this report was published, Stanza Living emailed us an official response. It's reproduced in full below:
"The COVID19 pandemic has had a pervasive impact on almost all sectors, and we have been no different. These are testing times for everyone and we stand by our residents and have taken all the necessary measures for their safety and security against this virus.
The welfare of our residents is an absolute priority for us and in our endeavour to be fair we proactively offered substantial concessions on the service charges for April, May and June to all our residents who were not physically present at our properties with us during the period.
We have now taken a step further to ensure that none of our residents are burdened at this time with rental charges and have offered to close contracts for any interested resident on 30th June 2020, which means that residents can vacate their rooms now, aligned to their academic or professional schedules and not have to pay any rent even if his/her existing contract extends beyond the said date.
In addition to that, in our endeavor to support our residents who wish us to safeguard their luggage in their existing rooms post the end of their contract period, we have introduced the service at a very nominal holding fee which is a fraction of the monthly rentals.
Having said that, today, we are also ready with an industry-first, best-in-class operating framework to combat the COVID19 threat across our residences with a range of innovative solutions for health, safety and hygiene."