Threats and violence escalate in Turkey over soaring rents

AFP , Sunday 1 Oct 2023

Cengiz Orsel hung a banner above his woodcarving workshop in Ankara so that everyone would know the astronomical rent increase his landlord is demanding.

Turkish rent
Cengiz Orsel, who says he has paid his rent without fail for 20 years, fears he will have to close up shop over rent increases. AFP


Instead of 3,200 lira ($117) a month, the sign said, "25,000 lira rent is asked for this shop" -- the equivalent of $911.

Rent hikes in Turkey have become so steep in the past year that they have led to violence between landlords and tenants, with media reporting 11 deaths and 46 injuries.

Rents have soared by an average of 121 percent over the past year, according to a study published by Bahcesehir University in August.

In big cities such as Ankara and Istanbul, they have surged by as much as 188 percent.

Orsel, who says he has paid his rent without fail for 20 years, fears he will have to close up shop.

"I want to make my voice heard. Such demands will push people to the brink of violence, as far as stabbing each other," he said.

"I can't pay that!" he said. "But if I have to leave this neighbourhood, I will also have to give up my job."

Turks have been enduring a cost-of-living crisis that has intensified as annual inflation has remained in the high double-digits since the second half of 2019.

Inflation approached 60 percent in August, but official figures are contested by independent economists who say consumer price increases actually reached at least 128 percent.

Eviction threats

The government has capped property rent increases at 25 percent for households, and aligned them with the official inflation rate for businesses.

But experts say the measures have only heightened tensions, prompting many landlords to use any means -- including illegal ones -- to evict tenants and find new ones ready to pay higher prices.

Some landlords have hired gangs to terrorise tenants into leaving their homes in Istanbul's Besiktas neighbourhood along the Bosphorus Strait, according to a real estate agent who requested anonymity.

Last winter, a landlord made headlines in local media after demolishing his tenant's door with an axe to forcefully evict him.

"The number of disputes between tenants and landlords has exploded in recent years," said Meliha Selvi, a lawyer in Ankara.

Around 47,000 eviction trials and 100,000 others concerning illegal rent increases opened in the first six months of this year, more than double in the same period of 2022, according to Turkish media.

"Tenants see their rights violated and landlords feel wronged by the crisis," Selvi said. "They accuse each other instead of holding the government to account."

Post-quake misery

The devastating earthquake that struck the country on February 6, which killed more than 50,000 people and displaced millions in the southeast, has only worsened the situation, said Osman Cal, a real estate agent in Ankara.

Rent for a two- or three-room flat in a central part of the capital jumped from 2,000 to 2,500 lira (70 to 86 euros) to nearly 17,000 lira (590 euros) in one year, an increase of almost 650 percent.

"Landlords are asking for rent increases well above inflation" amid an influx of displaced people from the quake zone, Cal said.

Ankara, situated far from the major fault lines that threaten Turkey, is considered one of the safest regions of the country.

"They (the landlords) feel wronged by the rent cap. But a civil servant, a pensioner or an employee on minimum wage have not seen their salaries increase as much and cannot pay the current rents," Cal said.

And despite post-earthquake reconstruction efforts, there remains a shortage of affordable housing.

"Developers prefer to build profitable luxury residences instead of social housing, and the government lets it happen," he said.

Currently, the net minimum monthly wage is 11,400 Turkish liras (395 euros).

Having moved from Hatay in southern Turkey -- the most devastated area after the quake -- Meryem Altunlu worries about how much she might have to pay.

"I'm already paying 13,000 lira (450 euros) with difficulty," she said. "If the landlord wants to go beyond 25 percent, I will have to leave. I don't know where to go."

Short link: