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Nairobi residents flirting with jail terms

By | February 3rd 2011 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

If City Hall implemented all its bylaws touching on residential areas, the estates would be deserted and there would not be enough jails to accommodate the offenders, writes Harold Ayodo

More than three quarters of the population in Nairobi would be cooling their heels in jail if the City Council was to strictly implement long-standing bylaws.

Neighbourhoods would be deserted given the way most residents and landlords unknowingly flout most of legislations set to govern the city.

But on the flipside, buildings would be sparkling and in tiptop shape were landlords to obey the regulation demanding that houses be repainted at least once a year. Furthermore, the facade of buildings would be kept clean, in good condition and repairs done regularly. All estates would be well-lit since the law requires all buildings to have security lights at the front.

However, it is always business as usual as many people are ignorant of the rules and regulations governing residential areas. The few times council officers have made efforts to enforce some of these bylaws; they have been met with a lot of resistance. The fact is that many of the bylaws don’t make sense to residents who view them as archaic and adding no real value.

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For instance, residents of Kifaru Estate in Nairobi West have on several occasions been at loggerheads with the council’s Inspectorate Department for washing their gates forcing them to either put up with dust-coated gates or wash them at night. Washing of gates and the consequent discharge of the water from premises is prohibited by council bylaws.

Residents in some estates have even run into trouble with council askaris for allegedly erecting television aerials on the roofs or repainting their private houses without written permission from the council.

Rearing animals

Mary Wambui, a resident of Nairobi’s South B, has no idea that rearing chicken is not allowed in city estates. To her, rearing the birds is not only a hobby but it also helps supplement meals/income.

"I started rearing them over five years ago and over time I have included turkeys and ducks," Wambui says.

In Buru Buru, David Jumba boasts of his pound of German Shepherd dogs that are feared across the court. He is not alone as many residents in Nairobi suburbs also rear dogs and other animals within the confined high masonry walls or live-fenced compounds.

Unknown to Wambui and Jumba, the council’s bylaws forbid rearing animals or poultry that are a nuisance to other residents within the neighbourhood.

According to the bylaws, it is illegal to cause risk to residents through poor or unfenced property and destruction of a building or road.

Furthermore, many residents risk arrests for buying vegetables from mama mbogas. In the eyes of the council, most vegetable vendors operate illegally making them and the buyers guilty.

Burning trash

Washing of vehicles in residential areas is illegal. [PHOTOS: COLLINS KWEYU AND COURTESY]

Other candidates for possible prosecution are those who wash or repair their cars outside their compounds. According to the set of regulations, washing, repairing or dismantling of vehicles in residential areas — except in cases of emergency — is punishable.

And living in a private compound next to a road does not allow one to let plants overgrow or leave hedges and trees to get bushy and pose danger to movement of traffic.

On the flip side, it is also a crime to just wake up and decide to fell trees without prior permission of City Hall! And in several estates across Nairobi, residents often collect and burn garbage around their houses unaware they are committing a crime.

City Council of Nairobi Assistant Director of Development Control David Gatimu says the bylaws are meant to govern Nairobi. He adds that even investors require written permission from City Hall to demolish their property.

"The City Planning Department assumes that flattening your home means preparing the grounds for another development," Gatimu says.

He says that the inspectorate department has stepped up its vigilance even to the suburbs to implement the rules and regulations.

Draconian laws

"Living in your secluded compound does not automatically grant you mandate of waking up one morning and deciding to cut trees without permission," Gatimu says.

Though our Nairobi City Council’s bylaws may appear draconian, they pale when compared to those in other countries. For instance, in Missouri in the US, it is illegal for four women to rent an apartment together just as it is illegal to paint homes on Sunday in New Jersey. Still in Missouri, residents under the age of 21 who throw garbage that contain empty cans of beer are guilty of illegal possession of alcohol.

In Warsaw, Poland, residents own modern homes but unfortunately the ground belongs to the Government, which can force them to move or demolish houses.

In Kentucky, United States, residents must take a shower at least once a year while in Utah, birds have the right of way on any public highway.

Facing the law

Back home, some investors have been hauled to court for failing to comply with some of the bylaws. For instance, Barclays Bank of Kenya and City Hall ended up in court after council inspectors charged the bank in January 2005 for failing to repair its premises both internally and externally. Consequently, a bank manager was served with summons to appear in court where he was released on a cash bail of Sh90,000.

Recently, the local authority issued notices to owners of 300 dilapidated buildings to refurbish them or have them brought down. The notices, with different expiry dates, were issued by the public health department and were part of a campaign to give Nairobi a new face.

According to Gatimu, City Hall has divided Nairobi into 20 zones for purposes of planning and protecting the environment in the interest of the public.

"The council has a duty to use planning controls to ensure development is allowed only where needed," Gatimu says.

He says the planning regulations even restrict the number of houses that can be built on a one-acre compound in the leafy suburbs, which they term low-density areas.

"There are areas such as Nairobi’s Karen where investors should build only one unit on an acre of land and a single unit in Runda on a half acre of land," Gatimu says.


He says construction of apartment blocks are not allowed in most parts of Karen and Runda, but are okay in Kileleshwa and Lavington.

"We are concerned about maintaining the suburbs. Therefore, we have zoning rules and regulations to ensure these suburbs remain leafy," he says.

Gatimu says starting any construction without the authority of the council is a mistake many private developers engage in. The assistant director says there are residents who are unaware of the bylaws while some know but choose to ignore them.

"We admit that some residents may be flouting bylaws unknowingly… we strive to educate many through the media," Gatimu says.

The assistant director warns breaching of the rules and regulations attract jail terms and fines of up to Sh100,000.

City Hall bylaws
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