We Asked Single Women What It’s Like to Look for Houses in India. These Are Their Stories.
“You’re supposed to give away your freedom and privacy as long as you just abide by their restrictions.”
We decided to document stories of single women from across India about the biases and arbitrary requirements they faced while trying to rent or purchase a house. Hundreds of submissions poured in, detailing the intrusion and prejudices that prevail. The experiences tell a tale of the stigma that single women across the board face in the form of their caste, religion, class, and most importantly, their singleness.
Here’s what they had to say.
‘Don’t Want Working Single Girls’
I live in Noida, where my friend and I were house hunting. This was the second time we were looking for apartments. And we were shocked to see such a response: “We don’t want working single girls.” Most of the owners didn’t want bachelors; everybody wants couples. At one point, we felt getting married is easier than finding a house. We even saw how brokers were trying to fool us. They would show us a flat and at the last moment, they would say, the flat is unavailable. One broker took Rs. 5,000, but didn’t give us the promised flat. After nagging him for weeks, we could only retrieve Rs. 2,500 from him. Another broker took Rs. 10,000. But on the day of moving, he said the owner had backed out. We had to sit for hours in order to get our money back; luckily, we managed to get the full amount. What most brokers do is lie to owners, saying the prospective tenants are family while leasing the houses out to bachelors. We were adamant that we wanted to speak to the owner to be safe. While showing us the apartment, the brokers lied that the owner had no problem with bachelors, when in reality, the owners were just in the dark. Sometimes, when the owners come to know, they just ask the tenants to vacate. We have also seen the attitude of people changing as soon as we have a male member with us. Even for trivial things, we had to ask our male friends to intervene, or just be there with us — so that we don’t get fooled.
Even in 2022, finding a house seems so difficult.
Bhadra Mahapatra, 26
‘Even At the Age of 31, I Was Expected to Exchange My Freedom for a Home’
Finding a house in Bombay has honestly been a nightmare. I came here on the first of May, but I started looking for houses in March itself when my company asked me to relocate. Every time I would reach out to someone online through MagicBricks or even Facebook, there was an additional factor that asked us to be vegetarian, and my potential flatmates were not. I was not checking any of the boxes now: I was neither married, nor in a safe profession (I’m a lawyer). Eventually, it would boil down to: you will have visitors, you will have people over, you will party over the weekend. And I would tell them I don’t really work all the time, but that mattered very little. This one lady who did agree to rent it out, did it because she was “tired of not receiving rent.” But she laid down certain conditions: every time you have a visitor you tell me, no one can stay here for more than 10 days… the list went right on and on. It sounded pretty much like a list of restrictions than of rules. So, even though I had paid a lot of my deposit and my advance, I got out of the house. I was actually asked what my parents do, and the fact that my father is also retired from the government services [was a factor in deciding].
And also caste, yes; they ask you your full name, they never really say “caste,” as such. But there’s no other reason they would ask you your full name repeatedly. You’re supposed to give away your freedom and privacy as long as you just abide by their restrictions – even at the age of 31.
Anandita Sharma, 31
‘I Got Rejected by My Future Landlord Just Because I Am Separated’
There is a rush of people coming to Bangalore, because of which prices of rentals have shot up. Negotiating with owners regarding anything has been challenging as a woman. Because demand is so much and supply is so less, a process of elimination happens. Owners prefer people who meet a certain checklist – like families. The idea around single women seems to be that they aren’t stable. Even when you go to meet your brokers, you have the unnerving sense of them “checking you out.” There’s an unsaid thing that if someone comes wearing dresses, then maybe they are too modern and independent — so they start judging you and your character.
My brother and his family live here. He bought a 3BHK recently, the house below theirs was empty, so he looked into renting that for me. But when he got to know my background, the owner said that we only let out to families and thus can’t offer this to single, separated women. [I]n that moment, I felt small; my identity was associated with having a male figure in the form of brother, father, husband — just somebody, to be honest. I was very furious. The next time, my brother recommended that I conceal this information, that I either say my husband is in Bombay or whatever — any placeholder excuse. “Don’t tell them you’re single, you won’t get the property,” he said. Things would be much easier if I had a partner. Somehow, you get that certification of stability, of being “good” and family-oriented, which is very different from the stamps of “single” and “separated.” I haven’t been able to find a place yet. I don’t know how long it will take.
‘One Lady Asked Me if I Will Have Boys Over and Have Sex’
I shifted to Pune for my first job in 2016 from my hometown, Varanasi. I started looking out for one room, or a 1BHK for myself. I really needed the space but didn’t get anybody who was willing to rent out an entire apartment to a single young girl. People always looked very questioningly at me for wanting to stay alone. What will I be doing? Will I be having boys over and have sex? One lady even asked me that directly. I was shocked. To them, being an independent woman meant I would definitely be a sexually active raging alcoholic. I asked several times why it bothers them if I had guests, or if I smoked and drank in my apartment. Many even said, “Sharifon ka area hai. Hum neech harkatein nahi chahte na hi apna naam kharab karna chahte hai.” (This is an area for good people. We don’t want tenants who would damage our reputation). I left instantly. Whenever I walked down wearing shorts or tank tops, my landlords would stare.
I always ended up sharing; the landlords felt sharing and putting some rules will make us grounded and force us to oblige. The society president also sent boys over for “protection,” apparently. I was taken aback. The boys were her nephews and cousins. They followed me around or stared at me, and I didn’t know how to confront them because they wouldn’t directly do stuff and it was their area and I was scared. I kept on minding my own business and, ultimately, after a year, I shifted. Many landlords didn’t have problems renting flats to [single] guys, but said it was unsafe to lease to single girls because “anything can happen.” One landlord even said that I might bring some guy and have sex, and later scream “rape” – and he would never get tenants in the future. I was so shocked. My single-ness seemed like a horror and curse.
Rupsha Bose, 29
‘My Religion Never Bothered Me Until It Came to Looking For a Place to Rent’
I’ve lived most of my life in Chennai, and I love the city to bits, but I’ve seen the uglier racist-sexist side of the people here, especially when it comes to house hunting. Once I saw 53 houses and finally got lucky with number 54. My “religion” had never bothered me until it came to looking for a place to rent. Suddenly, it became the biggest issue. I’ve had property owners say, “We don’t rent to Muslims as a policy,” and then add that “We don’t rent to Christians as well,” as if to comfort me that it’s not just “my people” they’re excluding. I’ve also had elderly property owners use their children abroad as an excuse to say, “Muslims don’t bother me, but my children in the US are uncomfortable.”
I face questions ranging from: a) “Why’re you single?” b) “Why don’t you live with your parents?” c) “Why are you not married?” d) “Why don’t you stay in a hostel instead?” e) “Why do you need a 2BHK to live alone?” This is often accompanied by statements like “We don’t want men visiting you;” “How many people will sleep in your house;” “Women tenants are a responsibility we cannot take;” or “our society (residents’ association) doesn’t want female tenants.” When it comes to accessing housing in India as a woman who doesn’t align with the conventional family institution, it means: growing a thick skin.
“I Signed an MOU Stating No Guy Will Ever Enter My House”
I moved to Pune for a fellowship in 2018, and I was looking for a 1BHK in Pune. It was a terrible and scary experience. You always feel unsafe with brokers; there was a tone of judgment about a single woman finding a house, and I always needed a male friend to converse with them and negotiate on my behalf. After knowing I am alone, they would often send a detailed list of restrictions that I would need to follow. Similarly, on Nestaway, this one time, I scheduled a visit alone, without a male friend accompanying me. I experienced a near-rape attempt. I had to run from the location as the person who was showing the house suddenly shut the doors and started acting creepy. I did raise a complaint with Nestaway, and their response was: “We are sorry for the inconvenience caused.”
I finally found a place after six months of horrible experiences. During the sign-off on the agreement with the owner and caretaker, they suggested that I take the lease along with my male friend – so that they can just contact him at all times, and he can visit frequently. Once I had the lease agreement and moved into the place, the next morning, the security guard called me up, and asked me why I came late. After that, whenever my friends used to come, they would stop them at the gates and not let them enter. They forced me to sign an agreement, which had 10-12 rules: no male friend is allowed inside the gate (even males from family), decent dressing (preferably churidars), no deliveries allowed (since I am a woman, they suggested I cook for myself), no entry after 9 p.m. inside the gate. Because I would still go out and meet my friends or come back around 10-11 p.m., they started locking the apartment door and the gate and would not let me in. I was shouted at, judged, and called a “whore” for having some colleagues over, or coming late from the movies. I was threatened that I would be taken to the police. The societies and owners justify it by saying, “We are taking care of you since you are away from your family.” I dreaded every moment. I got kicked out within a month.
Susmita Kandadai, 27
‘My Broker Proposed to Me’
When I was looking for a rented apartment in Pune back in 2017… I faced the constant pressure to prove that I am a woman of “good character,” and that I could be a match for a male bachelor (tenant). I found a broker easily on the internet. He asked some basic questions, but I found the questions relating to my family and singlehood status irrational. Questions such as “Will your family visit often?” and “Are you looking for a marriage soon?” were irrelevant. Moreover, the broker informed me that it would be challenging for him to convince the owner to let a single woman rent out the apartment. As a 32-year-old woman who is capable of making decisions such as renting out an apartment, I was asked by the owners/brokers to let them talk to my father. My owner never asked for my father’s details because they knew he was sick and was in an old age home. But as soon as he passed away, my owner asked for my relative’s phone number, saying, “If anything happens to you, we should be able to contact someone.”
“Why are you not thinking about marriage instead of living alone in the city?” This question was from the broker. He even came up with a marriage proposal. That was funny in one way, but I responded that I am not genuinely interested in marriage right now. The two-three owners I ended up meeting seemed to think single women become liabilities to the owner, or they wreak havoc in the apartment.
‘I Wish It Was Not a Crime to be a Muslim Woman in This Country’
As a Muslim woman who visibly appears Muslim due to the fact that I cover my head, I was distraught after looking for a home to rent in Sukhdev Vihar, New Delhi. For one month, we looked for a flat but, unfortunately, never succeeded. Twice, flat owners rebuked the broker in front of us, for daring to even imagine they would keep “Mohammedan tenants” in their house. One aunty screamed at him saying, “Tu Muhammedan le kar ke aayega mere ghar, ab se mein tera kaam band karwati hun. Aaj ke baad tere saath mein kaam karungi yeh tu bhul ja.” (I will get your business shut if you bring Muslim renters to my house. Don’t even think I’m going to work with you again after this.) Another uncle told the broker: “Why have you brought these people home? No matter how much rent they give, I will not keep Mohammedans in my house.”
I went to look for a place in a building where a Muslim family was moving in. Suddenly, the landlady asked them to pick up all their stuff and leave. She returned the advance money deposited and the rent they had already paid, and said she had changed her mind now — she didn’t want to lease them the house anymore. (The family: a man, his wife, and a little infant in her arms, had shifted all their belongings into this new house only a few hours ago). The landlady apparently became aggressive when she noticed the wife’s brother was sporting a beard. They were all in tears because they had already left their old house and had nowhere to go anymore. Once, my roommate (who does not appear Muslim, but actually is) looked at a potential flat and told me to go have a look while I was on my way back from work. I was told the flat was already rented. The next day my friend went again, and the man welcomed her. So basically, he was considering her as a potential tenant, but not me – simply because I appear Muslim. Even if someone ever did agree to do the favor of granting us permission to live in their house, they had a thousand restrictions about what we ate, whom we called into the house, what clothes we wore, and what time we came home. There’s so much more to say, but I’m exhausted. I wish it was not a crime to be a Muslim woman in this country.