If your landlord won't listen to your distress pleas, you have options

Always have a contractual/lease agreement between your landlord and yourself. PHOTO | COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • What most tenants don't know is that they have legal rights that landlords shouldn't breach.
  • Today, we look at what you can do when your landlord pushes you to the red corner.

The media has been awash with news of 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. What most tenants don't know is that they have legal rights that landlords shouldn't breach. Today, we look at what you can do when your landlord pushes you to the red corner.

Tenant contract

Always have a contractual/lease agreement between your landlord and yourself. This agreement will ensure that your rights as a tenant are protected within the law. It will also give you the basis for negotiating on rent and deposits. For example, according to a report by the Institution of Surveyors Kenya (ISK), if you have fallen behind on rent and have a contract in place the first step you should take is to renegotiate on options such as rent deferment, rent waiver, and rent reduction. Failure to have a contract may cost you when moving out of the premises. Make sure that the contract states how the deposit will be refunded, who will bear the cost of repair during your stay and after you move out, and whether the landlord will penalise you for late payments. If you have a medium to long term lease, have the contract declare what may happen if you move out before the full term of the lease. Will you forfeit the money you paid? Will the landlord refund the remainder? Or can you lease the property to a third party at your preferred rates including a higher rate than you leased?

Rent increase and notice to vacate

An increase should only come into effect upon a notice served to the rent restriction 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 not be less than one month's notice ending at the end of a tenancy month," Section 15 of the Rent Restriction Act Cap 296 says. However, a landlord can evict a tenant if there is a reasonable justification that the tenant is maliciously damaging property or has become a threat to the safety of other tenants. A landlord cannot auction off a tenant's property without legal approval to recover unpaid rent. "That qualifies as an illegal property auctioning for which you can sue in a court of law. However, if you have a tenancy agreement in place, you must check if the auctioning or nonrefundable deposit is part of what you consented to," says Carol Cheptoo, an arbiter, and advocate of the High Court.

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) which handles commercial rent and the Rent Restriction Tribunal (RRT) which handles residential or living rent. The Rent Restriction Tribunal has offices in major towns. 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 the Legal Resources Foundation Trust, landlord and tenant relationships in Kenya are governed by the Rent Restriction Act which covers residential and living rental issues. There is also the Landlord and Tenant Act which mainly caters to business rent such as shops, catering establishments, and hotels. Where a tribunal has not birthed satisfactory results, you may file an appeal against at the High Court.

Nyumba Kumi and the chief

A landlord-tenant dispute can be resolved through community leadership such as Nyumba Kumi and the Chief. For example, Nyumba Kumi or your chief may be more convincing in getting you to rent deferment in the event of a heated eviction threat. However, your community can only induce leniency from your landlord if you have a good record as a resident. If not, community leadership could instigate your eviction, especially if you're a security risk. Be honest and trustworthy. If you get rent deferment, strive to ensure that you will honour payments on the readjusted dates. Paying in installments can also be an indicator of commitment and will also ease the burden of paying rent in a lump sum. Only pay through verifiable means such as banks and Mobile Money.

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