Gunel Isakova, who studied in America and later returned to Baku, has been living in rented apartments for 8 years. For a short period she shared an apartment with other women, but for a while now she has been living on her own. And for that reason, she has come up against a number of problems while trying to rent an apartment on her own.
Other women who agreed to speak with us mentioned encountering problems from their landlords and neighbors.
Real estate agents are prone to asking single women personal questions, and landlords are hesitant to rent apartments out to them. As for the neighbors, they can be nosy.
Gunel Isakova says that the process of looking for a home as a single woman is very difficult, and has been difficult every time she’s searched for a new home in the past 8 years.
In the past few years, it has become easier to locate apartments for rent because of the popularization of internet sites that offer such services. Earlier, she says, one had to go in person to renting agencies.
“Everytime they heard me say that I intended to live alone, they either refused me on the spot or started asking me very personal questions. Some agents even put rather humiliating and belittling questions to me, such as, ‘You know, right, that you can’t bring anyone home?’
Gunel says that landlords are willing to rent out to single women, but only if they are working, and only the condition of enforcing strict demands upon their potential tenants.
But after agreeing to rent, the problems and claims raised against tenants never seems to end, Gunel says.
“My landlords were quite strange. Even though they knew I lived alone, they’d always come in the evening to collect rent. I had a landlord that would call me up completely drunk, or he’d come unannounced and bang on the door. He’d apologize the following morning, and tell me ‘he wasn’t himself.’ They think that if you live alone, you have no family and no one to protect you.” says Gunel.
Gunel thinks that brokers and landlords have such an attitude towards single women because of widespread discrimination against women in society at large.
“There is this preconceived notion in society that a woman cannot achieve anything by herself. If a woman is successful, if she lives freely, people think that ‘someone is keeping her.’ When I say that I don’t want to share my house with someone else, they immediately ask me why. They can’t understand that I need my personal space.” she says.
She says that at her current apartment, she has a great landlord, and the broker who found the place for her was very cooperative and understanding.
Gunel thinks that these “ridiculous and silly” housing – related problems for women will only be solved with the passing of time.
Personal Space and the Lack Thereof
Ilknur Salamova, who began working in Baku immediately after graduating from university, has encountered similar problems. She, too, has been living in rented apartments for the past 8 years.
“In Azerbaijan, the most difficult thing for a woman to do is to desire and wish for comfort”, says Ilknur, who claims she had no problem finding a home during her university years.
“Because I was living with other girls, I had just enough money to pay for a room. Landlords were happy to have female students, and they opened their doors for us quickly and easily. But, as soon as I finished university and started to work and look for a place, I could tell by the look of the expressions on landlords’ and brokers’ faces that they were not excited by my potential presence in their home.”
Ilknur thinks that 99% of brokers and landlords are willing to rent out to students because they will soon get married and leave. If they don’t get married after graduating from university, they must either do so quickly, or return to their father’s home.
“They think that if a woman wants to live by herself, it means that she is immoral. When a broker speaks with you and finds out you want to live alone, his countenance and tone can change in just 5 seconds…They think you’re ‘immoral’, and so they can try some dirty tricks… And in such a situation, you can not for a second let them think that you are “without supervision”, and you must say something like, ‘Oh, my brother will look out for me and come live with me.’ “
Last year, Ilknur had several such unpleasant experiences. She moved from one house to another, only to discover that her problems would not come to an end.
“Now the neighbors will start to stick their nose into your business. Who enters the house, who leaves, what time do they come home, and when do they leave – everyone will give thought to your every little action. If they see something they don’t like, you can be sure they will report it to the landlord”, she says.
“I’ve had to call my landlord a few times and warn him before hand that my brother or my father was coming to see me, and that he should make sure that the neighbors don’t come by, pretending to need to take a look at the gas meter, as if they were workers of the company…!”
Ilknur says that these problems are all linked to the fact that in Azerbaijan, society has, as of yet, not come to think of women as individuals.
“In Azerbaijani society, a woman is always ‘someone’s mother’, ‘someone’s daughter’, ‘someone’s sister.’ She is never her own, she is never a free individual. She cannot have a personal life, dreams or passions.”
, Vetoes, Complaints
Shabnam Sabirli has been living in Baku for the past 6 years – first for schooling, then for work. She says she has been on numerous occasions offended by the behavior of both landlords and brokers.
She says that because she lives on her own as a woman, her landlords have historically been unconcerned with daily problems that she might encounter around the house.
“Because you don’t have someone to look out and defend you, they don’t really care about your problems. You generally have to take care of everything by yourself.”
Sabirli also bemoaned the seemingly endless amount of limitations placed on her by her landlords.
“They sometimes try to intimidate me, and tell me that I can’t bring anyone home with me – neither friends nor male acquaintances nor relatives. They tell me, ‘we only allow well – brought – up girls into our house…’ “
Shabnam added that when men or boys try to rent out apartments for themselves, they don’t encounter as many problems and limitations.
“In this society, a girl must be ‘pure’. She cannot be a social activist, and she can’t come home late. These are the boundaries that men have placed on women over the centuries”, she says.
Fear and Intimidation
Shabnam’s roommate, Zulfiyye Safkhanova, also spoke of an incident that recently took place.
“A neighbor that I had been in the habit of saying hello to when we passed started banging on my door one night. When I opened the door, I saw that he was inebriated. He wouldn’t let me close the door and he asked for my friend’s telephone number. I shouted and the neighbors came quickly.”
Zulfiyye added that this event highly frightened her, and she hasn’t been able to forget it since. After the event, she and her roommate felt uncomfortable in their home, and had to move.
“When you live alone, people even consider you homeless. They don’t understand that you want to live by yourself for your own comfort.”
Why should a woman live by herself?”
Brokers who agreed to speak to the BBC Azerbaijani Service confirmed that most of them would be unwilling to rent out an apartment or house to a single woman. Broker Mehriban Khanim says that women who want to live by themselves “live a light-hearted, amoral lifestyle” and asks why should a woman live alone.
“Why should a woman live alone? Why would she want that? Does she not have a husband, brother, mother or father?!”
Tabriz Dedejanov from Creative Group Property and Real Estate says that it is mostly the landlords that place these criteria, the reason being that, according to them, “some women have an illegal lifestyle…”
He says that his agency always asks single women questions such as where they work, where they currently live and whether or not they have a family.
Political attention needed to solve the problem
Women’s rights defender Leyla Hasanova says that that it’s not just a problem for single women – but a problem for unmarried people in general. Though the problem is especially visible when it comes to questions of gender and sexuality.
According to her, Azerbaijani society looks at single and unmarried individuals as wild cards, and perhaps slightly dangerous to society.
“Either women are not allowed to rent houses by themselves, or they have 100 conditions put on them. Because landlords think with their patriarchal mentalities that it is abnormal for a woman to live by herself, and that it is not a normal or acceptable lifestyle”, says Leyla, who has only rented out apartments to girls in the past who have provided a letter of permission from a male family member, be it a brother, father or someone else because “renting out to a woman without a letter from her family can lead to a whole slew of problems.
This article was originally published in Azerbaijani by the
BBC Azerbaijani Service.