Report that condemned Kiambu real estate sector

A four storey building collapsed in Ndumberi, Kiambu while undergoing construction, it was suspected that poor architectural and masonry work could have contributed to the collapse. July 2014. [File, Standard]
Slightly over 10 years ago in October 20, 2009, a five-storey building under construction in Kiambu town collapsed, killing 17 people.

As often happens at such times, the collapse elicited hue and cry on the safety of buildings in the country.

Amid the din, the then Kiambu District Commissioner Albert Kimathi was ordered by the government to preside over the preparation of a situational analysis report.

Again, as it happens in many similar scenarios, after the noise had died down, Kenyans ‘moved on’. The report was completed but was not made public - until now.

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Major risk

The report, which Home&Away has seen, indicated that 95 per cent of the multi-storey buildings under construction in the town at the time and its environs had grave architectural faults and posed a major risk to occupants.

The remaining five per cent, it said, fell short of a 50 per cent rating in safety, meaning the buildings under construction in the area were a time bomb waiting to go off.

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“There is a major problem in the property sector within this area. It is in a mess and not unless we move in and salvage the situation, grave consequences are lurking in the shadows,” the report reads in part.

It said there was a major collapse of order and good practices in the sector, making it “one big mass of risky architectural designs begging to collapse at the least prompting”.

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Weaknesses were widely blamed on poor architectural drawings that bred structural failures since engineers and contractors who eventually got contracted gave rise to “contraptions that could not win an occupational certificate once complete”.

The report made a finding that since 2002, the area had been without a resident engineer and developers were relying on services procured with no standardised guidelines, hence creating loopholes in the sector.

The engineer was to later be posted in 2008 and in his first year of service, he was arrested and charged in court for suspected duty negligence that saw the buildings collapse under his tenure.

It also cited greed among some developers: “Some are known to be ordering their labourers to ignore the standards of ratio in the mixture of building materials.”

The situation was not helped by the fact that this was the second collapse of a buildings within the area in two months, bringing the death toll to 20 with more than 50 injured.

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The report cited investors’ wanton disregard for the rule of law, as they recruited quack surveyors, engineers, contractors and architects, as well as disregarded all good practices of the industry.

“You find an investor who has been authorised to build a three (storey) building going all the way to the sixth,” the report said.

Structural weaknesses

The government then ordered all buildings under construction to be halted until an inspectorate team drawn from the ministries of local authorities and public works lifted the ban.

Tenants were flushed out from buildings seen to have irreversible structural weaknesses.

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It is not known how and when the government lifted the construction ban because as the game of musical chairs continued in government offices, developers kept on building.

But the property sector remained unperturbed by the report, the government or the general public’s fears. It continued to record abnormal appreciations in both land and building prices. Rent also went through the roof.

An eighth of an acre in major towns of the county by 2010 had hit the million-shilling mark. Today, some parts of Kiambu command as much as Sh90 million an acre.

In the outskirts of the county, which has been dubbed the capital city’s bedroom, a quarter of an acre costs an average of Sh1.2 million. 

According to a pricing index by HassConsult Real Estate, Ruaka has the most expensive land in the county with an acre going for Sh90.9 million, followed by Kiambu town at Sh43 million, Ruiru at Sh25.6 million and Limuru at Sh23 million.

The lower-priced regions include Thika at Sh19 million, with Juja and Tigoni joint at Sh14 million.

The Lands, Housing and Physical Planning county executive, James Maina, now says his government is addressing the challenges facing the real estate sector in Kiambu.

“We have moved to minimise risks in the building sector to a bare minimum,” he said.

He told Home&Away that the process of building approvals is being done electronically, with those for single dwellings being approved within seven days upon due diligence and technical evaluations.

Development applications

“Other development applications are evaluated and approved within 30 days in line with the Physical and Land Use Planning Act, as well as compliance to building regulations. This is being consistently followed,” Mr Maina said.

“All developments (architectural) are further subjected to civil and structural approvals and a geo-technical analysis of the soils is a mandatory requirement.”

He added that all approvals must be submitted and designed by qualified and registered professionals and “we we have a surveillance team of engineers who check the construction sites and confirm if the conditions of approval are being followed diligently”.

However, Maina admitted that there are developers who construct without approvals and or without employing qualified personnel, but said “those are the ones we are cracking down hard on despite their diversionary noise that we are harassing them”.

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KiambuHousingReal EstateHome and AwayFerdinand Waititu