Oman has one of the largest expatriate populations anywhere in the world. No wonder then that over the last few months we have repeatedly reported changes (and potential changes) to the rules surrounding expats. This month more changes have been approved; this time they will affect expat housing.
Broadly speaking the new rules outlaw the sharing of properties in Oman. Until recently many expatriate workers have sought to avoid the rapidly-rising costs of rent in the Kingdom by squeezing ever more people into each unit.
In many cases unskilled and semi-skilled workers are the hardest pressed financially, and so are far more likely to live in groups to reduce expenses. Most commonly these are groups of bachelor men, often packed into properties at incredible rates to save money on rent.
If the media is to be believed, these same groups of men have been causing problems with the locals. Especially in family-centric areas, complaints are being received with ever more regularity by the government. Now new rules are being put in place to curtail such living arrangements and make Oman a more pleasant place for Omani nationals to live.
For one, mixed sex living is now prohibited for the unmarried. Expats who had previously been living with members of the opposite sex – whether in the same room or even just within the same property – will now be forced to seek new accommodation.
In addition to this, even in same-sex households, occupancy is now limited to a maximum of two people per room. While such arrangements do promise to make housing rather more civilized, and to save Omani nationals from being forced to live near sizeable colonies of unskilled migrant workers squeezed into insufficiently-sized accommodation, it will put the per-person rent rate up considerably.
The main method that the government plan to use to police this new policy is to refuse any rental contract that does not adhere to the new rules. In such a way expats will be forced to seek alternative accommodation.
Some experts warn that allowing just two people per room will risk putting the costs of renting out of many unskilled and semi-skilled workers capabilities, which could in itself cause problems for the country. If all these workers leave for other countries, Oman could find itself with a deficit of workers.
The Omani government responsible for the new ruling claim to have already put aside a large area in Muscat in order to develop new properties specially designed for the large number of soon-to-be-homeless expatriate workers. Ironically, it is likely to be the expats themselves – many of whom work in the construction industry – who will be building their own new homes.