Yangon landlords will face penalties if they rent rooms or apartments to foreigners holding a tourist visa, U Zaw Aye Maung, the military-appointed region minister for immigration, told The Myanmar Times.
By-laws written for Myanmar’s 1947 Immigration Act stipulate that foreign visitors on a tourist visa must stay in hotels, he said.
Only permanent residents and foreigners holding business visas are allowed to rent apartments or houses within wards – an administrative sub-division of cities - said U Zaw Aye Maung.
In the past these rules were rarely enforced, but a sharp rise in the number of foreign visitors to Yangon meant it was important that landlords and tourists follow the rules, he added.
“It is not a new law it was enacted a long time ago,” said U Zaw Aye Maung. “But the reason we are reminding people is that now more tourists are staying in houses and apartments. We can’t take responsibility for their security if they aren’t staying in a hotel.”
The number of tourists and expats arriving in Yangon for recreation and business has risen in recent years. Hotels projects have blossomed in response, and there are now so many hotels in key areas that the government has decided to place restrictions on new development.
But despite the surge in the number of hotel rooms, many individuals and groups entering the country on tourist visas opt to rent rooms or apartments from locals, which remain a cheaper option, said real estate consultant U Aung Min.
“Hardly any real estate agents or home owners are interested in what kind of visa foreigners looking to rent are holding,” he said. “They want to rent to foreigners because of the higher fees.”
But U Zaw Aye Maung said the authorities will take action against landlords and foreigners in violation of the rules and added that tourists could face deportation.
He said the onus was on homeowners to check what kind of visa a foreign visitor holds before renting out a room. He could not be reached, however, for further comment on what the penalties for lax landlords will be or how grey areas, such as visiting foriegn friends or rooms let on the increasingly popular online rental marketplace Airbnb, will be treated.
U Zaw Aye Maung admitted, however, that enforcing the long-ignored law will be a challenge given the size of Yangon and the rising number of expats.
“There are over 7 million people in Yangon and 45 townships and it has many streets and roads,” he said. “Township administrators cannot know how many expats are living within the ward, but that is the duty of wards administrators. We can’t check every street within every township, but if someone informs us tourists are living on a road or in a unit we’ll investigate and take action.”
U Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary at the Ministry for Immigration and Population in Nay Pyi Taw, said the restriction is also included in regulations attached to Myanmar’s 1982 Citizens Act.
According to an officer at the immigration department, who asked not to be named, the tourist visa application also stipulates that a foreigner cannot rent a private apartment.
“A foreigner that enters on a business visa can stay anywhere he wants, and also can rent an apartment or a house,” he said. “But foreigners on tourist visas are not allowed to enter into rental agreements like that.”
The government has also decided to get tough on guesthouses, applying a law under which owners who rent rooms to foreign guests without a licence can be jailed for three years. Under the same law, only guesthouses that can provide certain facilities – including an en suite bathroom – can receive a licence.
Additional reporting by Ei Ei Thu