Blunder that caused house rent in Nairobi to go up by 75 percent

Old Ngara Estate in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Back in the day when the government literally had the power of life and death, it dictated the prices of sugar, maize flour and cigarettes among other things. Landlords had to look over their shoulders whenever an angry tenant shouted about going to the rent tribunal.

It was during such a time that the government almost unwittingly caused a revolution. This followed the amendment of the Rent Restriction Act which was assented to on June 29, 1981, and came into effect on July 3, 1981.

The consequences of this amendment were such that rent for houses that had been constructed between January 1943 and December 1954 was increased by 75 per cent, while those which were completed between 1963 and 1979 were hiked by 40 per cent. Rent for newly built houses remained the same.

As soon as the law came into effect there was a hue and cry in Nairobi as landlords drastically increased rent. The desperation of tenants is best summarised by a three-word headline published in the East African Standard on August 4, 1981: Rents Go Up.

Despite the guidelines given by the law, some of the rents were increased by as much as 150 per cent while others rose by 100 per cent. In one instance, a landlord who was also a councillor increased rent to his one-bedroom units in Eastleigh from Sh700 to 1,500.

Another tenant who lived in Kenya Railways Corporation houses had his rent increased from Sh800 to Sh1,800, a figure that was beyond his salary.

On the day the new rents were gazetted, an accountant living in Mlango Kubwa had his rent increased from Sh600 to Sh1,200.

This feeling of helplessness came last month when civil servants occupying government houses were slapped with a rent hike, the first in 21 years. This followed a directive by Treasury that rent for all government houses would, from April this year, go up by 10 per cent.

Statistics show that the government has 56,892 houses spread across the country, which have an annual rent of Sh1.52 billion. Once civil servants start paying the new rates, the government will earn an additional Sh152 million.

But even as the government is keen to earn more revenue from its houses, bulldozers have been busy tearing down some old buildings, bits and pieces of Kenyan history, in places such as Parklands and Pangani to create room for skyscrapers. Informal settlements have not been spared either, and a case in point is Mukuru where thousands have been rendered homeless by demolitions.