At the heart of Nairobi’s leafy suburbs of Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Upperhill stand box-shaped old apartment blocks housing anxious pensioners or their offspring.
For 17 years, the eight occupants of the 20 houses on Kangundo Road, Kileleshwa, belonging to Telposta Pension Scheme have been fighting off eviction. The outclassed houses sit next to Oloitoktok Road – one of Kileleshwa’s main arteries.
At the entrance, one might mistake the estate for a garage due to the broken down cars, a ramshackle gate and unkempt live fence.
Most of the large windows of the dilapidated apartments are shattered, with the brown walls covered by mold and damp. It’s only the stained satellite dishes that remind one of a middle-class neighbourhood.
The old houses are in a high-end neighbourhood dotted with furnished apartments, paved driveways, high walls and batteries of security guards.
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The desolate estate is largely due to the longstanding tussle between pensioners and their scheme.
The Kileleshwa apartments are some of the many old houses owned by property-rich pension schemes in upmarket areas across the country that have become “eyesores” in prime areas due to years of neglect and longstanding court tussles.
Moreover, some posh areas are usually surrounded by slums.
The pension schemes have consequently been unable to sell these properties, re-develop or renovate them.
The Kenya Railways Staff Retirement Benefits Scheme (KRSRBS) is also another pension unit that has “old” houses in prime locations.
Henry Toili, a KRSRBS Trustee, however, observed that they have managed to refurbish most of the buildings, including solving drainage issues and are now earning “good cash.”
Previously, he noted, the houses were in bad shape. He blamed this on “emotional attachment” by some pensioners, which resulted in long court cases.
He says most of the pensioners were living in the houses without paying rent, leading to neglect. “Most of them were not paying rent and we were not realising the true value of the houses, but now we are even able to pay pensioners solely from the rents we collect,” said Toili.
The scheme has various properties including Matumbato Estate in Upperhill, Makongeni Estate on Nairobi’s Jogoo Road, Ngara and other flats in Hurlingham and along Ngong Road.
In a game of musical chairs, pensioners accuse their schemes of denying them a chance to buy the houses while the retirement schemes accuse them of holding on to rent arrears stretching into millions of shillings.
Pensioners say the scheme’s rent distress calls have left them in fear of auctioneers, with some remaining with only a bed in the living room. Inside, most of the houses are also in bad shape and have leaking roofs.
The scheme that has a portfolio of over Sh10 billion - paying Sh70 million monthly to pensioners - is also locked in fights with other pensioners that it wants out of its prime properties across Nairobi.
Last year, 13 pensioners at the scheme’s Elgeyo Marakwet Estate in Kilimani were auctioned in a move to recover rent arrears.
Some of the pensioners have lived there for over 30 years, but the scheme said they owed them rent amounting to over Sh25 million.
The scheme is also planning a similar rent distress exercise on another property along Jogoo Road that has 127 housing units, where it says it is owed over Sh125 million.
The scheme is trying to evict some two other pensioners in its South B flats. One of the two says she had paid over Sh700,000 after signing the offer letter, but was later blocked from clearing the balance in circumstances that are puzzling to her, and without any explanation.
However, Telposta Pension Scheme Chief Executive Peter Rotich said her chance lapsed since she didn’t clear the amount as per the contract in the offer letter, which indicated the payments do not exceed 90 days.
Speaking to Home & Away on phone, Rotich said eight pensioners in their Kangundo Road flats had turned them into an “eyesore” in such an upmarket area.
According to Rotich, the value of the houses keep falling as they have never been repaired for the last 20 years. “They make the apartments look bad. Some of them are cooking with firewood. Another one was keeping over six dogs inside the house,” Rotich told Home & Away.
He rejected the notion that pensioners were being denied a chance to buy the houses, noting that the offer letters back in 2003 were valid for 90 days. Only 12 pensioners took up the offer.
Rotich said the landlords repeatedly defied court orders seeking to have the houses renovated. The renovation was meant to sell the houses at a higher price so that pensioners get some value.
“There’s no way the pension scheme can go to the market with dilapidated houses. We would sell them at a throwaway price,” said Rotich.
He cited the pensioners’ continued stay in the houses as “illegal” and said attempts to remove them were futile due to the many “vague” injunctions they sought in court.
Rotich had previously accused some of the pensioners of having a “false entitlement” to the properties, having lived there for many years and raised families there.
This, he said, had resulted in lengthy and unnecessary court processes, which the scheme wins only to be met by appeals from the pensioners.
According to Rotich, the pensioners are still receiving their dues yet they don’t pay rent. The eight pensioners were dealt a blow last month when the Environment and Land Court dismissed their suit requesting a stay order that would have prevented their eviction.
Judge E Obaga ruled that they had huge rent arrears and it was through such rent that their pensions were being paid.
“They are in huge arrears of rent. Some of the applicants are pensioners of the respondent. It is through rent collected that they are paid their pensions,” said Judge Obaga.
“If they do not want to pay rent, they should not expect the court to look at them kindly. I, therefore, find that the applicants application lacks merit. The same is hereby dismissed with costs to the respondents.”
The pensioners have, however, vowed to appeal the ruling, saying the issue was not about tenancy, but their right to purchase the houses.