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Don’t get too comfortable over county rent waiver

By Harold Ayodo | November 29th 2020 at 18:20:49 GMT +0300

I recently heard that Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko waived rent for six months for tenants living in houses belonging to the County Government over the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Has this been effected? Why is it that the Government does not also force other landlords to also waive rents for tenants who do not live in county houses as we are equally affected by the corona pandemic?
Njambi, Nairobi

No one seems to authoritatively state whether tenants of the City Hall owned 16,632 housing units spread across several estates in Nairobi are exempted from paying rent for six months.

According to recent Data, Kanjo (City Hall) collected rent of Sh45 million monthly from the old houses, when in reality it could rake in over Sh500 million within the same period.

Currently, it is an open secret that majority of tenants who were allocated the houses have died, retired or if still alive, sublet them at higher rates.

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For instance, a three-bedroomed house that City Hall charges the original tenants rent of Sh10,000 monthly could be sublet at over Sh25,000 for the same period.

For other Kanjo houses, rent varies from a paltry Sh500 to Sh15,000 monthly.

On the six-month waiver for the Kanjo houses, the tenants should not sit pretty as the alleged waiver has brought to the fore a clash between Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) Director General Mohamed Badi.

Flashback two weeks ago, Governor Sonko issued a directive for the waiver of rent which Badi could hear none of, saying the declaration is beyond the purview of the embattled Governor.

According to Sonko – who may have been seeking political mileage – his directive was aimed at cushioning tenants from the negative economic repercussions of the corona virus pandemic.

He further accused the NMS and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) of allegedly harassing vulnerable tenants over rent arrears despite the ongoing corona crisis.

On the flipside, Maj-Gen Badi insists that housing is a transferred function and therefore, Sonko has neither grip nor authority over Kanjo houses. These include houses in estates like Maringo, Uhuru, Kaloleni, Jericho, Buruburu, Kariobangi South, Ziwani and Jerusalem among others.

Some of the rent arrears date back to the time of the defunct Nairobi City Council.

The Government may not be in a legal position to force landlords to waive or reduce rent on their privately owned property. However, the State may consider providing suitable incentives for private developers to venture into the ignored low-income housing.

It may go further to fund counties and agencies like the National Housing Cooperation to build houses targeting low-income earners who have never been a cup of tea for private developers.

For private developers, it is about investing and recouping. It at times gets costly for developers who spend more money to pave a road, bring in electricity, sink bore holes to ensure regular water supply and pay legitimate construction related levies. In the end, the cost of rent or sale of the property will be higher.

- Harold Ayodo is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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