The parents of HSC examinee Sumaiya Mamun came to Dhaka from Gopalganj at the beginning of November to find her a seat at a hostel. She will need to live in the capital and study in a private coaching centre to prepare for university admission tests.
They chose the Farmgate area, where numerous coaching centres and hostels are situated, but failed to book a seat as the fees are very high. The hostels demanded between Tk 8,000 and 13,000 for a single seat.
"She will need to stay somewhere from January but they [hostels] also demanded the rent for December. Furthermore, they are demanding service charges ranging from Tk 8,000 - 10,000. Why will I spend that much money? With that sum, I could afford an entire apartment,” said Sumaiya’s mother Jharna Mamun.
Sumaiya currently lives at Uttara in Dhaka with her aunt, but Jharna said it would be difficult for the student to travel regularly from there to attend coaching classes.
“We’re however not interested in those hostels anymore. Instead, we'll rent an apartment in this area [Farmgate] where she'll live with one of her friends and her aunt will stay with them."
The tests for Higher Secondary Certificate or HSC for the academic year 2021–2022 began on Nov 6 across Bangladesh. More than 1.2 million students registered for the exams, which will end in the second to last week of December.
Thousands of students will arrive in the Farmgate area afterwards to enrol in various coaching centres for university admission. The majority of them will come from outside the capital and reside at Farmgate's private dorms for the next three to five months.
Many parents have already started to come to Farmgate to book rooms for their children.
OLD TENANTS FORCED OUT BY JANUARY
Sumaiya’s family can afford an entire apartment, but many families do not have the finances to do so.
Most families also have serious concerns about their daughters’ safety. Hostels are often considered the safest place for girls, which is why many students live there throughout the year.
Hostel owners are forcing these old tenants to leave their rooms each year before the coaching season begins so that they can rent the seats out at higher rents to students who come from all over the country after the HSC exams to prepare for their higher education.
Tayba Sara has been sharing a room at Apon Angina, a private dorm in the Farmgate area, with three other students for the past year and a half. But now their landlord is pressing all of them to leave the hostel before January or pay more in rent.
The roommates are all worried as they do not know if they can stay or whether they will have to find new accommodation.
“My roommates are planning to move to Azimpur because the cost of living there is quite low. They can move out whenever they want because they are university students, but I am unable to do so right now because my exams are ongoing and my coaching will begin in just a few days," said Tayba.
As a long-term resident, she was required to pay Tk 6,500 for a seat and meals. But, the hostel owner now wants to treat her as a new resident, which means she will have to pay Tk 10,000 for her seat for the first three months of 2023 and Tk 8,000 as service charges.
"The landlord is treating me this way because they know that I'm an HSC examinee and I must stay in this area. Now I can only stay here if I agree to pay the new rent, which will be difficult for my family to afford,” she stressed.
Jahan Swarna has been residing in a hostel named Mother Hostel since January 2021. She will have to leave the place this December for the same reason.
Jahan began living at the hostel with her sister during the prolonged closure of all educational institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were two of a handful of tenants in the building.
“At that time, the owner allowed us to rent a room for Tk 10,000 without meals. But when the students started to return to the dormitory in the middle of the year, he forced us to pay Tk 3,000 more for food. We agreed to pay for it, even though we don’t eat at the hostel.”
But this year, the proprietor ordered them to vacate the room by the end of December or they will have to share the room with two more students for the next four to five months of admission coaching.
"If we leave, he will be able to accommodate a total of four students and earn at least Tk 40,000 per month from this room, in addition to Tk 30,000 - 40,000 in the name of service charges,” Swarna explained.
IS THE RENT JUSTIFIED?
In 2006, Sathi Akter lived in a hostel in the Farmgate area and paid a total of Tk 2,500 for accommodation and food amenities.
In 2015, student Sadia Afrin came to Dhaka from Barishal and boarded at the Nibedika Girls' Hostel, where she had to pay Tk 5,000 per month for a tiny single room. She was also required to pay a service fee of Tk 2,000 at the time.
However, in today's Farmgate, the rent and service fee for a student in the first month ranges from Tk 18,000 - 22,000. They also have to pay one month's rent in advance. In the Azimpur, Badda, or Mirpur areas, a student can still get a bed in a residential hostel for Tk 3,000 - 4,000. But in Farmgate, that is far from the prevailing rate.
The lowest rent for a seat at Mother Homes, Uttarbanga, Nibedika, Apon Angina, and Syntax, was Tk 8,500, while the highest was Tk 13,500. Additionally, the hostels all charge a service fee ranging from Tk 8,000 to Tk 10,000.
Amir Hossain, a spokesman for Nibedika Girls Hostel, stated that students must pay from December to book a spot and have to pay for the hostel’s meal plan as well.
“Those who are moving in are paying from December because we won’t rent out seats from January. We know that the exams won’t end by December and students will start to live from January, but they still have to pay the rent for December because this is our system," he said.
When questioned about why purchasing the meal plan is mandatory, he responded: "It's a package system so you have to pay for it."
Almost all of the hostels in this area have the same or similar conditions. This business policy is not a closely kept secret but is in the open.
The government has not set up any authority to oversee these hostels’ business practices. It is common knowledge that Farmgate is a major student-living hub, but there is no official data on how many students live in the area throughout the year or move there after their HSC exams.
A spokesperson of the University Coaching Center says at least 20,000 students come to the area after HSC exams from all over the country each year.
Apurbo Hasan, chief of Tejgaon Police Station, said around 40,000 students stay in the private dormitories of the Tejgaon Industrial Area throughout the year and he thinks that the hostel owners do not charge excessive rent from students.
"Sometimes, some people talk about this as if it is a problem, but the truth is that they [the hostel owners] do business for three months out of the year. It's just a seasonal matter. After three months, the students don’t stay there, but the hostel owners must continue paying rent for those empty apartments. So, in my opinion, the rent is justifiable.”
Manjur Mohammad Shahriar, director of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, said they are not allowed to take any kind of action on any collusion between the student hostels under the current Premises Rent Control Act, 1991.
“We've received these kinds of complaints before. We also deployed a team twice in the last year in response to those complaints.”
"But we’re unable to actively intervene because the law does not mention the cost of housing for students during the admission period. However, we recently included this issue in an upcoming amendment to the Act. Once it passes, we will take action,” he said.
Adil Mohammad Khan, executive director of the Institute of Planning and Development, said, “There are errors in our planning. Why does a student have to pay so much money? Secondly, according to the existing law, the city corporation should monitor this seasonal business. But nobody is actually doing so. The market is behaving like a monopoly.”
"I have a house, but I’m not free to do what I like with it. Housing is a business but there should be some guidelines and monitoring. We have a law, but that law doesn’t have details.”
Local city corporation ward Councillor Faridur Rahman Khan Iran said that he had no knowledge of the issue and there are no guidelines on this matter from the government.
"This is the first time I've heard that they are charging Tk 10,000 - 12,000. I always thought that they are charging between Tk 4,000 and Tk 5,000 from each student.”
“We try to stay away from issues related to girls' hostels because it may lead to a misunderstanding. Since we frequently ignore it, the owners may be taking advantage.”
“If we ask them, they will never agree to it, but, I have the authority to permanently close a hostel if someone lodges a written complaint with us."