If you’re not a married, vegetarian, Hindu couple or family, it’s likely that you’ll find renting an apartment in India harder than expected. In fact, it’s likely to be quite a challenge. Especially, if you’re unmarried or Muslim.
I first discovered the pitfalls of renting an apartment in India when I was living in Kolkata. Two of my English girlfriends and my husband (who was not my husband back then, but rather a guy I was seeing casually) decided it would be fun to live together in a large apartment as one big mixed happy family. Very naively, I thought that it would be a straight forward process to find an apartment. After all, we were decent people, who had the financial means to support ourselves. And this kind of shared living arrangement was common where I came from. Needless to say, it didn’t happen.
There was no anonymity of dealing with real estate agents like I was used to back home. Instead, we had to personally meet the potential landlady and be scrutinised by her, while she laid down a number of archaic conditions. “No alcohol, no staying out after 11 p.m., and no members of the opposite sex sharing the apartment”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Had I all of a sudden travelled back in time? Surely it couldn’t be 2006. And I couldn’t be an adult. Those kinds of rules were for teenagers who were still going to school!
It wasn’t an isolated incident either. Everywhere we looked, we encountered the same response. Most property owners didn’t even want to rent their apartments to foreigners. And a man could definitely not, under any circumstances apart from marriage, occupy it with us.
Fast forward a few years to Mumbai. My husband and I still weren’t married, but we were planning to be. I was about to move to Mumbai and we needed to find somewhere to live. I shuddered at the prospect of finding a place. However, it was swiftly taken care of in the Indian way by my husband’s family (who, after four months of my husband’s pleading, had given the go ahead to our relationship). My husband’s mother, sister, and another auntie (who’s daughter was about marry my husband’s younger brother) formed a group and went on a search and find mission. My mother in law told the potential landlord that her son and his fiancee would be living in the apartment. The landlord eventually approved. But, then there was a hitch. It was a vegetarian apartment complex. We were not vegetarians, so wouldn’t be permitted to live there. Arguements between the landlord and my husband’s family ensured. Eventually the landlord relented. After all, a group of determined Indian women is a formidable thing! When we moved in, imagine the landlord’s shock to find that the fiancee was actually a white foreigner!
Fast forward a few more years, still in Mumbai, the most cosmopolitan city in India. I have a white friend who’s looking to rent an apartment. She wants to live with her Indian boyfriend. Yes, they’re not married. Nor are they vegetarians. And they are of mixed religion. After the intervention of five real estate brokers, and looking at dozens of apartments, they finally find a place in Powai where the landlord doesn’t disapprove of them. They are so happy. They give the landlord the deposit and first month’s rent. The deal is done. But did they end up moving in? No. The building society people didn’t want them living there. In India, it’s not enough that a landlord wants to rent his apartment to someone. The committee that oversees the apartment building also has to approve of whoever will be living there. So, what’s my friend going to do? Fake a marriage certificate from her country of course. After all, this is India where people fake documents all the time. And it’s the end result that counts, not how you reach it!
If you’re a Muslim, don’t expect to find it easy to rent an apartment either. Muslims are also majorly discriminated against. You don’t ever want to have to say that your name is Khan, like this poor unfortunate guy. And bachelors? Forget it. No one wants to rent an apartment to these untidy, dirty creatures in Mumbai!