Singled out: women renting in Chennai

Finding a good place to stay has been a challenge for single women in India. With more real estate players stepping in, the situation may look up soon

August 11, 2023 05:30 pm | Updated 06:53 pm IST

It took three months for Vinay P. from Bengaluru to find a house for rent for his daughter Anu (name changed), studying at a college in Chennai. Anu, who was staying at a hostel, wanted to move into a house along with her friends. When they started looking out, they were turned down by most landlords for two reasons — that they were single and were college students. “We found houses/apartments through classifieds and brokers in Perungudi, Thoraipakkam, Adyar and ECR belt. But many owners said they were not keen to rent out to single girls. After seeing nearly 40 houses, Vinay found one for his daughter.

Despite Tamil Nadu having a large women workforce, rental accommodation for a single woman doesn’t come easy. The understanding is that young single women hang out with friends more and have weekend get-togethers often. It’s harder for college-goers to find a rented accommodation than working women. Some believe that single women who take up houses will not stay long in one place and would vacate at will unlike those with families.

Apart from this, caste and religion are also a concern. And if one is single and aged 35 and above, they are questioned about it.

Krishnamurthy, a real estate broker in T. Nagar, said: “While providing details of vacant houses, landlords always tell us to recommend ‘only families’. We read a lot of negative news about crime on women and by women, and so they don’t want to take a chance.” He noted that if a woman is a college student, a mediaperson, an IT employee, or employed in the salon industry, the chances of finding a house is less.

Harshitha, a techie, said that five years ago when she came to Chennai as a fresher, she was hunting for a house in Tambaram and in vain. “Things haven’t changed even after five years. Landlords still ask our age and marital status, and if we do night shifts.” According to Harshitha, if you’re a Muslim, it’s even more difficult finding a house.

Mahalakshmi, 43 and single, says, “When you are 40 years and above, landlords fear about who would take responsibility if anything untoward happens to you.”

Harsha Koda, co-founder, Federation of OMR Resident Associations, says that property owners are reluctant to allow single women but on legal grounds they cannot do so. He said that some associations are fine when paying guest houses run on the premises rent out rooms to single women; here the responsibility is with the person running it and there is proper monitoring. Koda also said that people are slowly opening up now as they also have children moving out to other cities for work and study.

Lack of support

Subramanian, a house broker in Kodambakkam, says that he found a space in an independent house at Choolaimedu for a single woman from Bengaluru. “The landlord was in Delhi and he was absolutely fine with renting out the house to her. But the neighbours and association were totally against it and she eventually had to move out in two months.”

The rental for a 500-600 sq.ft. 1BHK house in T.Nagar would be ₹10,000-₹13,000. An apartment of the same size in this locality would on an average cost ₹15,000 per month. Women prefer apartments to independent dwellings because of the ease of maintenance and better amenities. At posh locations like Nungambakkam, the rental cost of a 1BHK house (600-700 sq.ft.) is ₹18,000-₹25,000. In areas like Triplicane, Saidapet, Tambaram, Little Mount and Chromepet, a 1BHK house for rent would cost ₹8,000-₹13,000. Flats would also cost the same in these localities. There are 1BHK houses available even for ₹5,000 but we have factored in houses and localities where single women may feel safer.

Women prefer taking up houses/ apartments on rent because there is no privacy in hostels and paying guest accommodations. And most hostels don’t offer single rooms, it’s either two sharing or four. Most hostels and PG accommodations in the city are poorly maintained. Cleanliness is a major concern, especially post-pandemic.

Government initiative

Ballpark estimates show that there are over 4,000 hostels and paying guest accommodations in Chennai and the industry is pegged at over ₹2,000 crore. There are many hostels that operate silently without informing the neighbours, so the market is quite huge. On an average, the rates here are anywhere between ₹6,000-₹15,000 per month.

Recently, the Tamil Nadu government started hostels for working women called ‘Thozhi’ (female friend). This initiative was started by the Tamil Nadu Working Women’s Corporation Limited, established by the social welfare and women empowerment department. This is being funded by the government and the Tamil Nadu Shelter Fund under Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Fund Management Corporation.

The demand for good accommodation in Chennai is increasing day by day. For instance, the IT sector in Chennai employs over 8 lakh people, of which over 30% are women, and a majority of them come from other districts and states. Chennai is also emerging as a startup hub which again employs young women. Localities like Old Mahabalipuram Road, Porur, Adyar, R.A. Puram, Thoraipakkam, Nungambakkam, Ambattur and many more have started renting out spaces for single women, provided they meet the criteria set by the landlords. Some apartment associations also have an unwritten rule against single women.

Also, according to the National Family Health Survey, the number of single women in India is expected to reach 100 million by 2025. This growth is being driven by a number of factors, including rising education levels, delayed marriage, and increasing workforce participation among women.

That said real estate players are renting out spaces as shared accommodation. For instance, if there is a 3 BHK house, the developer himself puts out a message on social media forums and this space can be taken up by three different women and the rent can be shared. In a few cases, companies take up these spaces and give it on rent to women workers. Many unsold properties in Chennai are also providing space for single women now. Real estate players are also tying up with paying guest operators and letting out space.

Jerry Kingsley, Head, Strategic Consulting – Value and Risk Advisory India, noted that real estate developers are responding to the growing demand from single women by developing properties that are specifically designed for their needs. “Another residential solution is co-living. Co-living operators such as Truliv, Zolo, Stanza, Colive, Hive cater to the millennial working population,” he added. These players offer standard services such as housekeeping, Wi-Fi, and 24x7 security. Additional facilities like meals, laundry and gym are also offered at a premium.

Jerry also pointed out that at present, the co-living market is not governed by any regulatory policy and this has given operators a certain level of freedom to evolve, based on the demands of the market. “With proper support from the government, co-living spaces can truly become a viable alternative of housing for the millennials and bolster women empowerment,” he said.

Srinivas Anikipatti, Senior Director - Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Knight Frank India, said that Chennai has witnessed substantial growth in the co-living sector near prominent business hubs catering to young working professionals. “Major co-living players like Zolo stay, Stanza living and Hy Liv have penetrated into various micro markets of Chennai,” he added.

Technology is a big help for single women. They look up online sites to filter landlords who have a problem renting out their houses.

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