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Rental disputes: These are your rights as a tenant

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Rental disputes: In May this year, a landlord in Ruaka, Kiambu County, flatly refused to reduce rent for his tenants. The landlord said that he had a Sh. 1.048 million loan which he was servicing and could not afford to miss a coin in rent. His refusal to cut rent was just the tip of the iceberg. Many of his colleagues have acted worse. Since the outbreak of coronavirus and the slowdown of the economy in Kenya, reports have filled media outlets on landlords welding tenants’ doors and taking off roofs in a bid to kick out rent defaulters.

A landlord also went viral after auctioning off one of his tenants’ goods even though he still had the tenant’s two month rent deposit. These scenarios betray the bitter relationship between landlords and tenants. What most tenants don’t know is that they have legal rights that landlords shouldn’t breach and for which they can seek legal relief. These rights cover areas of bad blood such as abrupt increase of rent, eviction, deposits, and property damages.

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Take a look at what to do when your landlord pushes you to the red corner:

The contract

Always have a contractual agreement (known as tenancy covenant) between your landlord and yourself. This will ensure that your rights as a tenant are protected within the law. According to a report by the Institution of Surveyors Kenya (ISK), where you feel pressed and unable to meet your rental obligations, the most logical step to take is seek a negotiation with your landlord based on the terms of your contractual agreement.

This will only happen if the contract is in existence. “The options to consider include rent deferment, rent waiver, and rent reduction,” said ISK.

Apart from detailing whether your deposit will be refunded when you move, an agreement should also state who will bear the cost of repair during and after your stay. It should state whether you will be subjected to any penalties during the months you failed to pay your rent on time. At the same time, the agreement should say what will happen in the event that you lease a property but move out before the term of your lease. For example, if you have leased a property for a five year period, only for circumstances to force you to move out two years before the lease expires: Will you forfeit the money you paid? Will the landlord refund the whole or partial amount? Will you have the green light to lease it unto someone else in terms that you may see fit, including at a higher cost?

Increased rent and notice to vacate

The Rent Restriction Act Cap 296 forbids your landlord from increasing rent at will and beyond the standard rate. “A landlord shall not be entitled to recover any rent in respect thereof in excess of the standard rent, notwithstanding any tenancy agreement or lease executed between the landlord and the tenant or any other agreement, in writing or otherwise, as to the amount of rent payable made between the landlord and the tenant prior to or after the assessment of the standard rent,” Section 9 of this Act says. A landlord may however raise rent based on increases in water and light rates, conservancy charges, structural repairs and redecorations.

This increase will be effective upon a notice served to tenants and the rent tribunal. The Act further says that where the landlord wants a tenant to vacate, he or she may serve them notice at least one month in advance. “This notice shall be not less than one month’s notice ending at the end of a tenancy month,” Section 15 of the Act says.

Rental Disputes Tribunal and Courts

In Kenya, there are two types of tribunals where you can present your grievances. These are the Business Premises Rent Tribunal (BPRT) and the Rent Restriction Tribunal (RRT). The Rent Restriction Tribunal has offices in Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu, Mombasa, Nyeri, Eldoret, Kakamega, Embu, Garissa and Lamu. This tribunal is involved in regulating the increase of rent, the right to possession, the exaction of premiums and fixing standard rent regarding controlled premises and other purposes between a landlord and a tenant.

According to Eric Mukoya, the Executive Director at legal Resources Foundation Trust, landlord and tenant relationships in Kenya are governed by the Rent Restriction Act, and the Landlord and Tenant Act. The Landlord and Tenant Act mainly cover business rent such as shops, catering establishments and hotels. “If you have a dispute, you may opt to seek redress through tribunals. If both bear no results based on what you are aggrieved about, you may file an appeal against the decisions offered by the tribunals at the High Court,” he says.

According to Carol Cheptoo, an arbiter and advocate of the High Court, where a landlord has unduly sent your goods for auctioning to recover his rental fees, a tenant can also sue at a court of law. “That qualifies as an illegal property auctioning. However, if you have a tenancy agreement in place, you may also need to take a look at what it says and if the landlord acted according to what you mutually agreed and consented to,” says Ms. Cheptoo. Also, instead of taking the aggression path, a few negotiation skills can go a long way in fostering a good relationship between you and your landlord, even as you stand for your rights.

Rental Disputes Case example:

In 1999 Lizzie Wanyoike, the founder and director of the NIBS Technical College leased a space in Nairobi to start a college. She had 25 students. Within months, her landlord decided to kick her out of the premises. “The space had been empty for quite some months.

After turning it into a thriving space, the landlord decided to kick me out,” she says.  Since she had leased the space legally and had the accompanying contract, Ms. Wanyoike challenged the landlord’s decision in court. “I decided not to leave. I knew my rights and successfully challenged the decision in court,” she says. She occupied the space for the full duration of the lease.

Rental disputes: This feature was first published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.

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