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Landlords reaping from tenants’ ignorance

By JAMES WANZALA
Updated Thu, October 17th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

Property owners and their agents harass and manipulate tenants most of whom have little knowledge about their rights. From arbitrary rent increase to refusing to refund deposits, Kenyan tenants are a disadvantaged lot, but a little research and knowledge is all you need, writes JAMES WANZALA

When Ruth Wanyama, a resident of Pipeline Estate in Embakasi, Nairobi, wanted to relocate to another plot, she asked for a deposit refund from the caretaker. But this soon turned into a cat and mouse game between her on one hand, and the caretaker and agent on the other.

“I was told to produce a deposit receipt which I did. I was then told to go back after one week,” says Wanyama.

After taken back-and-forth for nearly two weeks, she gave up. “A week turned into two and there were no signs that I would get my money back. I was forced to write off the money and move because I had already made up my mind to move that month,” she recalls.

Many tenants in urban centres like Nairobi can identify with Ruth. It has become common for tenants to be harassed and manipulated by agents, caretakers and landlords.

Cases of tenant harassment range from being thrown out in the middle of the night to arbitrary rent increases, and withholding deposit in case a tenant wants to relocate.

Many victims of such harassments are not aware of their rights as tenants, hence giving landlords, caretakers and agents an easy time to harass and exploit them financially.

The rights and obligations of both tenants and landlords are stipulated in the Land Act. This statute governs the administration of leases and states what actions each party should take in case the case reneges on its obligations. 

The roles and obligations of a tenant include paying rent on agreed time, whereas landlord is expected to ensure the house or premise is habitable.

Before renting a house, a tenant should ensure he or she signs a tenancy agreement drafted by a lawyer so that the agreement is grounded in law.

Ephraim Murigo, the Secretary General of Urban Tenants Association of Kenya (Utak), says that many tenants do not know their rights, making it easier for landlords and agents to take advantage of them.

“Most tenants don’t read the tenancy agreements before signing them hence, exposing themselves to manipulation,” says Ephraim.

Formed in 2009, Utak is a duly registered non-political society whose mandate is “to legally contribute towards the welfare of landlords and tenants in Kenya”. Murigo says his organisation, based in Nairobi, wants to ensure there is quality, conducive, living and working environment within all rental premises, residential or commercial.

It also gives guidelines for landlords, agents and managers to treat tenants reasonably, according to tenancy laws.

Tenancy agreement

Murigo says tenants should know the three sections of a tenancy agreement, namely: Entry section or grand entry where a tenant prepares more to move in the house by doing a research on the new premises to know if the plot has water frequently, cleanliness, terms of rent increase, if the landlord is quick at returning deposits, among other things.

“Unfortunately, many tenants do not do the necessary research before entering the new house,” says Ephraim.

The second section focuses on the actual living in the premises. It is here that the tenant needs to know things like time to close the gates and rent payment methods. The final section is the exit, which mainly deals with termination of the tenancy agreement.

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