• The pandemic calls for compassion, but some landlords need the rent to survive
• President Uhuru Kenyatta said he cannot force landlords to waive rents, leaving Kenyans at the mercy of their landlords
Ever since the coronavirus hit Kenya in March, the economy has been dwindling and hurting people's finances. However, some are taking advantage of the pandemic to blame every single hardship on the virus.
While tenants feel that landlords should relent on their demands due to the hard times, landlords have also been having it rough. Some rely on their houses for income, and waiving the rents will mean they will also find it hard to put food on the table.
President Uhuru Kenyatta called on landlords to be considerate but ruled out compelling them to waive rents.
As some landlords understand the harsh economic times and overlook the dues, others are suffering as the tenants also take advantage of the situation and remain mum on payment.
Some landlords are okay with forgoing the claim because they have different sources of income, while others really need the money.
For tenants, it has been a desperate time as some have been thrown out. There have been cases of landlords removing the roof of their rental houses just so they can get rid of tenants who have refused to pay the rent or move out.
One case was in Kisumu, where a landlady deprived a woman who had children of shelter after ripping off the roof over rent arrears.
Here in Mombasa, musician Akothee helped to pay Sh12,500 to the landlady of a woman in Bombolulu who failed to pay three months' rent arrears.
The woman used to pay Sh3,500 per month for her rent, and when dues accumulated, her landlord removed the windows of her rented house to force her out.
The landlady also asked for a refund of Sh1,000 from her tenant for the uprooted windows.
Such harsh coronavirus conditions have forced many to take crazy actions, which come across as inhumane, but who is to blame for these desperate measures? Is it the landlords or the tenants?
Abdhalla Hamisi from Kisauni was highly dependent on his rental house as a source of income. He is now suffering greatly as his tenants have been escaping paying rent since corona hit the country.
Hamisi has a rental house with seven single rooms, for which he charges Sh3,500 per month per room. Usually, he would be taking home Sh24,500 by the 10th of each month.
He said he is an understanding landlord because he knows how hard things have become ever since Covid-19 started.
“You cannot give pressure on someone because you are sure it has been hard for them to get the cash to pay you. You just put yourself in their shoes because if you are also facing hardships, then you are also imagining their situation,” he said.
At the moment, he had to throw out his tenant who had booked two rooms because he failed to pay his rent.
The other two rooms he had rented to students from a university in Mombasa. After schools were closed, they had to go back to their homes. However, they left their belongings inside the rooms and remained quiet on payment.
“They have locked their rooms and I cannot get through to them on phone,” Hamisi said.
Now he is only depending on only three rooms, for which he said the tenants have not paid for two months now.
Life has not been easy for him as he is also living in a rented house where he also has not paid for two months.
Hamisi also had a business he was depending on but it has not been going well as it was also affected due to the virus aftermath, and now he is only depending on his rented houses to sustain himself.
“I am a traveling agent and now that there are no people travelling abroad, it has been quite hard,” he said.
Rajab Matano, a tenant in a one-bedroom house where he pays Sh14,000 per month, said life has taken a drastic turn. He wishes Covid-19 would just vanish into thin air and life turn back to normal.
Matano is a teacher at a private school in Mombasa. Now that schools are closed, getting his salary has been a hide-and-seek game with the school.
“At times, when inquiring about salary, you are told the school has no money or you get paid half your salary. So this has really affected me personally,” he said.
With a family of a wife and two children, he had to look for a side hustle so he could pay his rent and get by.
“I have to look for other earning alternatives, like small businesses or even manual work, so as to get that extra coin to pay my rent and ensure my family has food on the table," he said.
Even though Matano is finding it hard to pay his rent, he says he understands when the landlords are furious about payment.
“I cannot complain because most of them depend on the rent to survive,” Matano said.
He said the only way out is to ensure he does his best to do business, rather than depending on his salary.
It's not uncommon to hear someone saying, "I cannot go to a house that is under an agent." Agents are usually harsh on tenants when it comes to clearing their rent arrears.
Some say that when the deadline is due and you have no cash to pay for your rent, then you can just talk to your landlord and he will understand and give you time to clear your rent.
But living under agents is a different story. They do not want to understand the situations of people and demand for payment when the amount is due.
In these Covid-19 times, though, agents had to loosen up on their strictness and just understand the tenants altogether.
Kingdom Properties, which is situated in Bamburi, Mombasa, is among the property companies grappling with the dwindling of the economy.
Company director Paul Kighe said they have adjusted to the new normal of delayed payments, terming it understandable.
"At this time, paying rent has been quite hard. It has become common for many who are relocating from the expensive houses they used to live in to much more affordable houses," he said.
At Kingdom Properties, they have been forced to cut down prices by Sh3,000 just so they can be pocket-friendly to clients.
"You will find a house that was being advertised for Sh10,000, then the landlord will tell you to accept a tenant willing to pay Sh8,000. So it has really affected business," he said.
Kighe said the most affected people are low-income earners. "People living in houses ranging from Sh10,000 and below are the ones who have been affected so much by this," he said.
The landlords have, however, instructed the agents to be strict in clearing electricity and water bills.
"There has been also that mutual agreement between the landlords and us. It is a mater of understanding each other right now because the situation is dire," he said.