The quest by many to own plots in prime areas turn into heartache as fraudsters con them, in other cases it is a challenge reconciling actions by the former local authorities to present realities.
When Joseph Kamau used his savings to buy a plot in Ruiru, Kiambu, he thought he had finally realised his dream to have a property under his name.
Kamau, a businessman based in Nairobi, had seen an advertisement on the parcel of land outside a land agent’s office in Nairobi and got interested in buying it.
He hurriedly contacted the agent, ready to buy the 100 by 50 feet parcel of land. He was shown the plot, which he said impressed him.
His plan was to use the property’s title deed to take a loan to supplement the little savings that would remain after buying the land to build a three-bedroom house for his family, having paid Sh15,000 in monthly rent for years.
The broker took him to a gentleman who claimed to be the owner of the land. The “owner” said they would transact the deal through the agent’s office.
Satisfied, Kamau paid Sh600,000 to the agent purportedly on behalf of the owner and was now ready to start waiting for the processing of ownership documents.
While waiting to get the documents, Kamau decided to fence the plot, only to be confronted by another person who said he was the genuine owner and even produced ownership documents as proof.
“I told him I had bought it and he asked me to produce ownership documents, which I told him were being processed. He produced his and told me the land was his and that he had not sold it to anyone neither did he have intentions to do so,” he said.
After a protracted tussle, which ended up at the police station, it dawned on him that a bogus land agent had swindled him of his money. He also later learnt he was not the only victim; many others before him had fallen victim of the con.
But he is not alone. About two years ago, houses belonging to innocent Kenyans were reduced to rubble in Syokimau, Machakos, when the Kenya Airports Authority moved in to reclaim land that it said was theirs but had allegedly been fraudulently sold to unsuspecting members of the public.
In other cases it is the question of reconciling actions by the former local authorities to present realities.
In Kiambu, Christian Foundation Fellowship Church is embroiled in a land dispute with the County Government of Kiambu over a plot located in Kiambu town near the GK Prison.
The county says the land was for public utility. The church management, on the other hand, claims it acquired the plot from the defunct Kiambu Municipal Council and even produced approval letters.
Area County Representative James Njenga, who led the demolition of the church over a year ago, said that the land was earmarked for the construction of a library and a youth polytechnic.
Reverend Willy Wanderi, who is in charge of the church, said they genuinely acquired the land with the approval of the Municipal Council of Kiambu and displayed some documents to prove it.
“The land was given to us six years ago and letters of approval as well as the plan were signed by at the council. The Local Authority Ministry also approved it,” he said.
The disputes have seen an ongoing construction project demolished three times, subjecting worshipers to about Sh7 million in losses.
Land experts say ignorance and the quest by Kenyans to own properties in prime areas have left many buyers vulnerable to con men who pose as brokers.
There are hundreds of fraud cases in courts, involving peoples who have lost millions of shillings in phantom land deals.
Kiarie Njoroge, a surveyor, says many are not aware of the process involved in land transactions, neither do they make an effort to learn — and criminals are taking advantage of that.
“Many buyers give the responsibility to verify the authenticity of the property they are buying to brokers and agents. Con men have learnt that and often put up advertisements of “land for sale”, knowing they will get calls from potential buyers,” says Kiarie. He adds that most the advertisement are fake, unsuspecting Kenyans go ahead and buy other people’s plots, only to realise later that they had been conned.
He says the most affected areas are Kiambu, Nairobi, Kajiado and Machakos counties, which have prime land buyers are scrambling for.
John Mwaniki, who runs a property agency, says ignorance among buyers has exposed Kenyans to con artists.
“They (con men) are well dressed with decent offices and put out expensive advertisements about plots for sale. Potential buyers flock to or call their offices where they authorise the agent to conduct the transaction and make sure he or she gets the land,” he says.
The police have been handling and investigating cases where hundreds of people have been defrauded while transacting land deals.