According to the Kenya National Housing Survey 2012/2013, up to 80% of Kenya’s urban dwellers are tenants. With home ownership a distant dream for a large number of people, tenant-landlord relationships are gaining greater prominence. Often times when house hunting, tenants tend to be in such a state of distress that they hurry and sometimes move in without signing tenancy agreements. This can expose a tenant to rogue landlords at best and housing fraudsters at worst. This begs the question, what type of pre-tenancy checks can a tenant do to protect their interests before signing on the dotted line of a rental lease?
When landlords go rogue
Although most landlords are responsible, there are some landlords who are out to fleece you from your hard-earned income by giving you substandard accommodation or who mistreat you if you delay in rent payment or when you demand for your rent/utilities deposits. Many tenants have fallen prey to property owners and quack ‘property managers’ due to ignorance and lack of awareness of their rights. In recent years, cases of tenant harassment have been on the rise. These cases range from being locked up for days even weeks in their premises to arbitrary rental increment and illegal withholding of deposits when renters are moving out. Well, don’t let this be you because the experience can surely be a bitter one.
Never withhold paying rent as a way of forcing the landlord to attend to outstanding issues because it is a breach of tenancy and you can get evicted.
What to do before you sign the lease
- Read your tenancy agreement carefully
Take your time to read all sections of the tenancy agreement carefully and pay extra attention to clauses on repairs, deposits and termination of tenancy agreement. Ask questions like, ‘What is meant by general wear and tear?’ ‘What I’m I permitted to repair and deduct from rent?’ Make sure you know your responsibilities and those of the landlord. Similarly, be aware of the annual rental review to avoid surprises at the end of the year. This has been the bone of contention between some landlords and tenants.
- Inspect the house
Always conduct a thorough inspection of the house you are planning to move into. This will help you to identify any hidden defects. Ask questions like ‘What is the process if something needs to be fixed at the property?’ Do you have a caretaker on site and what kind of assistance can I expect from him/her? Do not be shy and seek as many clarifications as you can.
- Check what other tenants say about the landlord
Arrive at the site for any meeting in advance and try to find out what other tenants and neighbours say about the property and the landlord. Is the landlord responsive? Are they happy with their stay? How long are their current tenancies? In fact, while at the property, you might get lucky and be brought up to date on all issues pertaining to the house by the often gossipy caretakers.
- Beware of rental fraud and viewing fees
With the proliferation of online marketing, you should vigilant not to be a victim of rental fraud. If a landlord is using a property management company, visit the offices of the company and if necessary, speak to one of the directors. Similarly, don’t be over-eager to pay viewing fees. You could be on your way to dealing with quack agents. Professional estate agents never ask for viewing fees because they are paid a commission by the landlord both to let and to manage the property.
- Know your rights under the law as a tenant
Under Kenyan law (Rent Restriction Act, Cap 296), all residential houses with rents below Kshs. 2500/= are protected tenancies. This Act protects low income earners from predatory landlords who might otherwise increase rents at will. If your tenancy falls in this bracket, you should be aware of the provisions of this Act.
- Make sure all repairs are done to a reasonable level
The state of the house as you take it over should be well detailed in the Take-Over Notes. Make sure that everything that is promised is fixed before you move in. It is a good idea to take photos before moving in especially if some repairs were not done to your satisfaction. Note that the ability of the landlord or his/her agents to fix issues as promised is a critical indicator of how responsive he/she will be during your tenancy. If necessary, take photos of unsatisfactory repairs as a way of protecting your rent deposit from misuse when you end the tenancy.
- Reduce all correspondence to writing
Under all circumstances, reduce all communication to writing. Although the lease is the primary agreement that frames the relationship between a tenant and a landlord, other communication can protect your interests as well. Consequently, follow-up most – if not all, phone calls with emails detailing what has been agreed upon regarding repairs, dates and other important matters.
What to do during tenancy
The following steps can protect you during tenancy:
- Be active in the estate management team or residents’ association so to give voice to common tenancy issues;
- Create the impression that you are a caring, polite and patient tenant by refraining from calling the landlord at odd hours;
- Request for occasional face-to-face meetings to take care of outstanding issues;
- Towards the end of your tenancy (once you give a notice), request to know how your rent and utilities deposits are being processed.
Although these strategies will help greatly before and during a tenancy, at no point should you stop paying rent as a way of forcing the landlord to attend to outstanding issues. This will be a breach of tenancy and the landlord can seek to evict you with immediate effect. Remember, landlords love good tenants. These are tenants who take good care of houses and pay rent as expected. In fact, as you conduct your own background checks on landlords, they are most likely doing the same on you. Having said all that, if you see that things have deteriorated beyond what is tolerable, give notice and move before things get worse.
Enjoy your tenancy or your property if you are a landlord and feel free to contact Citiscape Property Management for rental and letting solutions.