|Three bedroomed flats in Jamhuri Estate near Ngong Road.[PHOTOS: WILBERFORCE OKWIRI / STANDARD]|
The tenants living in city council owned houses in Nairobi pay a small percentage of the market rate—in rent. Little wonder then that these houses are handed down from one generation to the other, writes HAROLD AYODO
Living in a relatively low-priced City Council of Nairobi houses is the dream of many families to save on rent.
But even as the houses are pocket friendly, tenants owe City Hall a whooping Sh93 million in unpaid rent.
Glaring disparities in rent between council houses and those that are privately owned show why the council’s houses are not only hot cakes but are passed down from one generation to the other.
For instance, a three bed roomed public house in Mariakani in South B goes for Sh10,000 per month while the market price in the area for the same size of house is between Sh50,000 and Sh55,000.
Therefore, a tenant in a privately owned house in South B can rent five houses owned by City Hall in Mariakani flats.
Moreover, a privately owned two bed roomed house in South B goes for Sh25,000 per month and a bed sitter in the same areas fetches Sh15,000 per month.
Other three bed roomed houses owned by the City Council of Nairobi at Sh10,000 monthly are in New Ngara, Old Ngara, Kariokor and Buru Buru.
Currently, a refurbished three bedroomed maisonette in Buru Buru estate goes for Sh30,00 per month.
It is even pocket friendly to stay in a house owned by City Hall at the posh Joseph Kang’ethe (Woodley) estate at Sh14,500 for a three bed roomed house!
In Eastlands, rents in some of the 22 public estates like Bahati, Ziwani,Landhies Road, and Embakasi are from a paltry Sh500 per month.
City Hall tenants in Harambee, Mbotela, New Pumwani, Bondeni, Kaloleni, Uhuru, Maringo, Jerusalem, Jericho, Lumumba, Ofafa and Mbotela also pay rent below Sh4,500.
Pangani, Jevanjee, Bachelors Quarters, Jamhuri, Kabete, Juja Road, Gorofani, Kariobangi South, Huruma and Outering also part with pocket friendly rent.
However, even as the houses charge laughable rent in mockery of market rates, they have never shied away from controversy.
For instance, some witty tenants have sub let the houses at near market rates and only pay unsuspecting City Hall its ‘peanuts’.
There are people who are registered in the houses as owners but do not live there. Instead, they sub let other tenants and put up in rural areas or cheaper structures.
Currently, the thousands of tenants who have lived in the public houses for decades owe City Hall unpaid rent totalling a whooping Sh93 million.
The local authority has now embarked on a mission to evict the seasoned tenants who have now turned into perennial defaulters.
City Hall owns 16,632 housing units in Nairobi and collect monthly rent of a paltry Sh45 million every month. Economically, should City Hall rent out their houses at market rates, they would be pocketing nearly 500 million a month.
According to insiders, City Hall has not and cannot construct more residential houses over financial constraints that have seen its estates - like Madaraka - sold to pay debts.
City Council of Nairobi deputy chief revenue officer Shaban Asman says tenants in Eastlands alone owe City Hall Sh53 million.
“Tenants of estates categorized as ‘upmarket’ owe us Sh43 million. We are in the process of recovering the debts,” Asman says.
According to City Hall records, their up market estates include which should raise Sh23,403,000 monthly include Joseph Kang’ethe (Woodley) and Mariakani.
Others are Kariokor, New and Old Ngara, Huruma, Buru Buru, Jamhuri, Ngong Road, Kabete, Juja Road, Jeevanjee, Pangani and Bachelors quarters.
Millions of arrears
“Arrears of tenants of Woodley estate alone stands at a whooping Sh20 million following a protracted court case,” Asman says.
He explains that tenants of Woodley stopped paying rent after they were allegedly allocated the houses irregularly in 1992.
“City Hall went to court and won the case…the tenants were then ordered to clear their outstanding arrears,” Asman says.
City Hall says rent areas of residents of Kariokor also hit the roof following a court case to stop increment from Sh7,000 to Sh10,000 for three bed-roomed houses. ?“We won the case and they were ordered to pay up. Most residents of Kariokor have paid up and now owe us Sh1 million,” Asman says.
Rent arrears of tenants in Pangani, New and Old Ngara stand at Sh12 million following a case currently in court to continue paying rent of Sh4,500 monthly.
“Tenants of Kariobangi South owe us Sh8 million after they unsuccessfully failed to stop increase of rent from Sh5,500 to Sh6,000 in court,” Asman says.
When Home & Away sought answers why some tenants neither pay rent nor move out of the public houses, a barrage of answers followed.
Asman attributed the stalemate to political factors that even make it difficult for the council to adjust rent upwards to near market rates.
“Councillors who run the local authority use the houses as bargaining chip with the electorate making it difficult to evict or increase rent,” Asman says.
The deputy chief revenue officer says retirees who have lived in the houses —some for over four decades — are hard to deal with.
“The retirees do not pay rent and some moved to their rural areas and left the houses for their relatives,” Asman says.
Unfortunately, some of the relatives who were ‘bequeathed’ the public houses are unemployed and cannot pay up. ?But now, with the latest formulation and implementation of the Revenue Enhancement Plan, City Hall is evicting hard up tenants.
Following the move, the local authority has embarked on a strategy that combines both eviction and impounding of personal property.
“We evict about four families a day the numbers will soon increase as we tighten the noose around necks of defaulters,” Asman says.
Interestingly, after eviction, City Hall charges the evictees an eviction fee of Sh10,000 for those in up market houses and Sh5,000 in Eastlands.
48 hour notice
The local authority has even put aside it’s by law that required tenants to pay up rent arrears after a 48 hour notice.
According to the now revoked law, a tenant should have been in arrears for at least two months before being slapped with a 48-hour notice before eviction. But now, City Hall sends bills with notices to tenants that rent must be paid in advance by the fifth of every month failure to which eviction follows without notice.
Even as the City Council of Nairobi tightens the noose on seasoned defaulters on rent, some tenants are pointing back accusing fingers.
One such person is David Nyavicha who says some tenants are evicted before the houses are taken over by big shots at City Hall.
“They seize houses and charge incoming tenants at near market rates…some tenants do not feel a pinch paying Sh15,000 for a three bedroom in Buru Buru,” Nyavicha says.
And the dire shortage of the affordable housing in Nairobi persists, as the Council has not built constructed public houses for decades.
Up in arms
And their sale to recover debts has sparked controversy and outrage among seasoned tenants.
Take the recent case of the seizure and sale of Madaraka estate by the National Housing Corporation (NHC) over default of an Sh590 million loan.
For starters, City Hall had taken an Sh590 million loan from NHC to construct 46 flats of two and three bedrooms in Madaraka estate in 1958.
Upon completion in 1973, 600 families moved into the 192 two bed roomed and 408 three bedroom houses, before the loan accumulated to 1.3 billion eight years ago.
When NHC moved to court over the debt, Local Government Assistant Minister Betty Tett told Parliament on June 29, 2004 that NHC had seized Madaraka.
“Interest on the Sh590 million loan advanced in 1958 accrued to Sh1.3 billion, which NHC is demanding paid,” Tett then told Parliament.
She said City Hall paid Sh300 million of the principal amount of Sh590 million before accumulated interest pushed the debt to Sh1.3 billion.
According to the Hansard, NHC also ‘took over’ council houses in Kariokor, Huruma, Kariobangi, Buru Buru, Jamhuri and others in Eastlands.
About five years ago, the Corporation and City Hall buried their differences over Madaraka estate.
The NHC handed over a cheque of Sh181.3 million and followed it up with the handover of Kariokor; Huruma, Kariobangi, Buru Buru and Jamhuri estates back to the Council.
In return, the City Hall surrendered the title deed and Madaraka to the Corporation, which sold the houses to private owners increasing rent from a paltry Sh3,000 to Sh30,000.