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Why the law might not recognise your 'mabati' house

By Ferdinand Mwongela | February 2nd 2017

The enforcement, or lack of it, of laws governing the real estate sector has been blamed for a lot of things, chief among them the collapse of buildings, causing untold damage in the loss of lives and property.

What has not received as much attention is what the laws, or some of them, advocate as best practices. This is where the building code, officially known as the Local Government Adoptive By-laws (Building) Order 1968, comes into focus. Do not be surprised at the date, for even in an age where we have refined laws governing nearly every facet of our lives, those that guide the standards of construction of the houses we live and work in have been in place for nearly as long as the republic.

These laws are antiquated and hopelessly out of touch with reality. This code does not recognise the materials the majority of Kenyans use to build their homes as proper for construction. Neither does it pay sufficient attention to materials that make a better fit for our local environment.

Growing up, a hut made of mud walls and thatch roof in my grandmother's compound was  a favourite, not least because of the way it remained cool even in hot weather. Measured against the hoity-toity official building code, grandma's hut was no more than a shack built with unsanctioned materials and unworthy of being called a house. In fact, if Kenyans were fastidious about the law and religiously looked for a certificate of occupation for their homes before moving in, very few would get them. This mostly because of the materials they used.

Not that the review of these laws has not been mooted time and again. When I started writing for the real estate beat almost a decade ago, the planned review of the building code and the digitisation of land records at Ardhi House was in the news. Both are apparently going on but the review of the code and its implementation still remains to be seen.

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