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Tenants in a quandary as rents go up in Makkah ahead of Haj.

Badea Abu Al-Naja | Arab News <p>MAKKAH: The price of rents in Makkah has skyrocketed due to an increased demand in accommodation for pilgrims, something that has tempted landlords to ask tenants with yearly contracts expiring before the Haj to leave so as to accommodate pilgrims at extortionate prices.

The unprecedented rise in rent prices can also be attributed to the demolishing of buildings as part of the expansion of the Grand Mosque.

"I was living with my family at an apartment in the Aziziyah district of Makkah on a yearly contract," said expatriate Ali Muhammad. "Everything was going well until around two months ago when the landlord asked me to clear out because he wanted to turn the building into a hotel," he added.

Muhammad said he then began looking for another apartment and eventually found one for SR2,500 a month.

"I've taken it even though I only get paid SR1,800 a month as a teacher. I'm confident my new landlord will not turn his building into a hotel," he said.

He added that he would stay at his new apartment for two months until the Haj finishes and then return to his old apartment.

"This is a continuous problem. We are made to pay rent until the Haj and then made to vacate our apartments because the landlord wants to rent the building to pilgrims and make huge amounts of cash," he said.

Fahd Al-Sharif, a Saudi citizen, accused landlords of opportunism.

"Building owners rent their apartments at normal prices throughout the year. Their rental contracts, however, contain clauses that tenants have to clear out before the Haj," he said.

Al-Sharif said a friend of his was also asked to empty his apartment from the middle of Dul Qaada until the end of Dul Hijjah.

"My friend will move into temporary lodging for the duration of these six weeks. He also has to go through the trouble of moving his furniture which might break in the process," he added.

In previous years, Al-Sharif's friend used to pay between SR2,000 and SR2,500 for an alternative apartment during the Haj, but this year he paid SR4,200 because of a shortage in available housing units.

One Saudi man who asked his name not be published said he usually empties his apartment in the Al-Shisha district near Mina to sublet it to pilgrims.

"I rent my apartment for SR17,000 and then sublet it to pilgrims for over SR13,000 for the few days of the Haj," he said. "I take my family to Jeddah where I rent a furnished apartment for SR2,500 and end up making a lot of money in a few days."

Commenting on the subletting of buildings during the Haj, lawyer Badr Al-Rouqi said such practices are illegal, as tenants do not have licenses from the municipal authorities.

"Although subletting is financially feasible, there are tremendous risks involved, especially in the event of an accident or fire," Al-Rouqi said, adding that people who sublet their buildings risk severe punishment if caught.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Nov 11, 2009
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