KUWAIT: This April 28, 2020 file photo shows people lining up to receive food aid in Mahboula during total lockdown. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: The struggle is real for many expat renters in Kuwait, especially those with no work and no pay as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis continues with no end in sight. Some tenants were on vacation, and since there are no inbound flights, they are stranded in their home countries without a chance of coming back soon. “I left Kuwait towards the end of February. I had no idea that I would be stuck here and could not be home on time. Now, the reality is clear. I still cannot come back because of the flight ban. I cannot do anything now but sell all my belongings in my room,” said Richard Rey, who works at an Arabic and Japanese restaurant in Kuwait City.

“I am giving up my room in order to pay for the place I rented – I have to sell everything including the fridge, cabinet, TV and PS4. All my things will be sold so I can pay my March and April rent. Then I told them to rent it out to anyone. There’s nothing I can do. I told my boss that I am still ready to join – he only needs to renew my iqama, but I haven’t got a reply from my boss so I will stay here in the Philippines,” he said.

For some renters in Mahboula and Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh; two areas that have been under total lockdown for over a month, there is no such thing as free stay. “You would think they would be more compassionate now since we are in isolation, but there is no such thing as compassion. For them it’s business as usual – we have an obligation to pay our monthly rent less 20 percent,” said May, a tenant in Jleeb Al-Shoyoukh. “I asked many renters here – some are paying in full, some are being asked to pay half. To give a 20 percent discount is not acceptable, but even if they say to pay the whole amount, we cannot do anything – they own the flat,” she said.

A leaser of several flats in Mahboula admitted to have instructed most of her tenants to pay the rent. “They have no work, but the company told them they are going to pay. The flat owners told us to pay the full amount too, so there’s nothing we can do at all,” she said.

Some building owners have waived the full amount of rent. “They give us free rent for April, in March it was 50 percent, but May we don’t know yet. But this is pretty good on the part of the building owners to give us this big discount, we really appreciate it,” Meliza told Kuwait Times. “I have not moved for the last 12 years, so they know I am loyal and pay on time. Now that we have this pandemic, they should really be understanding of the predicament of people,” she said.

The coronavirus pandemic has severely affected many workers in Kuwait. Some were able to pay rent in February and March, while some workers had said they would not be able to pay the April or May rent. “If they insist I pay, I cannot pay – I don’t have money. I will call the police if they try to evict me from my flat. They know the situation – why should they insist when we all know we don’t have money,” said Ahmed, an Egyptian tenant.