One property, two titles: Old man’s plea for justice

PHOTO| ANTHONY OMUYA Women holding title deeds.

What you need to know:

  • As the ministry of Lands suspended all land transactions for two weeks to clean up the mess in its offices, many Kenyans hope their troubles will end
  • The businessman had maintained an office on the premises and rented out the seven shops and residential space in the rest of the property. His possessions were thrown out, leaving him watching helplessly and seeking justice in every conceivable office in the land.

For about 34 years, Kenneth Mwangi was the proud owner of a multi-million-shilling property on Nairobi’s Kirinyaga Road.

And then one Friday morning in 2009, Mr Mwangi was, without notice, evicted by auctioneers from the property he had bought way back in 1974.
“They (auctioneers) came in very early in the morning and took over the premises before I arrived; there was no notice ... They didn’t share with us any documents,” Mr Mwangi said.

The businessman had maintained an office on the premises and rented out the seven shops and residential space in the rest of the property. His possessions were thrown out, leaving him watching helplessly and seeking justice in every conceivable office in the land.

Six years since Mr Mwangi’s Black Friday, he is a pale shadow of his former self. The impeccably dressed but frail nonagenarian, who once worked for the Department of Defence as a clerk, says the pressure brought on by the property fight has taken a toll on his health.

Mr Mwangi is one of the Kenyans who hope that the ongoing audit at the Lands ministry can help give him justice. Alternatively, he prays and hopes that Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and his courts can deliver speedy justice so that the battle does not outlive him.

“The baseline of my position is that even the entire process of purporting to sell my property for alleged unpaid rates is corrupt and false because at that time I was not in any rate arrears. A decision made on the basis of a false statement cannot and should not be allowed to stand,” Mr Mwangi says.

His case – where a parallel title deed was issued to a second party more than three decades after Mr Mwangi acquired his – underlines the chaos that faces Lands Secretary Charity Ngilu and the National Lands Commission as they try to clean up the mess created by years of mismanagement and fraud at Ardhi House.

Currently, Mrs Ngilu has suspended all land transactions to allow for an audit of the ills that have long bedevilled the Lands headquarters and left the likes of Mr Mwangi in dire straits.

Mr Mwangi visited Nation Centre this week, to tell his story in the hope that this would speed up the wheels of justice.

The businessman is perhaps one of the thousands of Kenyans who have found themselves fighting to reclaim property transferred in mysterious circumstances through collusion or negligence by unscrupulous Lands officials.

The purported new owners of the property – Nanak Hospital Management Services – hold a title that was issued in 2008 even though Mr Mwangi had owned the property since 1974.

Both title deeds were issued by the Lands ministry and neither has been cancelled despite Mr Mwangi’s protestations.

“It is obvious that the property as at 2008 was not available for allocation to another party because I already held a valid title. My title was never and has never been cancelled or revoked to date,” Mr Mwangi says.

What has frustrated the 75-year-old the most is the length of time he has spent in and out of the courts and offices at Lands, City Council, police, and anti-corruption offices since the auctioneers visit in 2009.

The confusion is such that City Hall confirms that Mr Mwangi is the rightful owner of the property and collects land rates from him. But it was the same City Hall that allowed a change of ownership to Nanak ostensibly because Mr Mwangi had failed to pay property rates.

Indeed the businessman had indeed paid rates and was ahead of time in a reconciliation of his account conducted by City Hall.

According to documents at the Lands ministry, the property was initially on leasehold of 52 years from January 1, 1949 to January 2001.

On June 10, 1974, Mr Mwangi and two others purchased the property from the previous owners. It was purchased through a financing arrangement offered by the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC).

Mr Mwangi, however, bought out his partners the following year and remained the sole proprietor.


A meticulous record keeper, Mr Mwangi applied for a lease extension on March 6, 1987, three years ahead of the time his lease was set to expire.

Records at the Lands registry show that the application was numbered but the file subsequently went missing. But Mr Mwangi was granted a 50-year lease extension at the expiry of the one issued in the colonial days. The records were updated in July 2005.

But unknown to Mr Mwangi, Nanak Hospital Services somehow acquired a title to the same property through a vesting order registered in the Nairobi Lands registry on June 17, 1996. The order was based on a premise that Mr Mwangi was not paying his rates.

This is despite the fact that the land was charged to Diamond Trust Bank from which Mr Mwangi had borrowed Sh450,000 and used the property as security.

A copy of the order which arose out of a civil suit filed in 1981 is, however, missing from the records. Mr Mwangi says he was never aware of any such suit and was never served.

It would appear from court records that the property was transferred to Nanak Hospital Management Services by the City Council for a consideration of Sh4.8 million. Mr Mwangi says he has never been shown the vesting order and does not know on what basis the transaction was done.

His repeated trips to the Lands ministry drew a blank. He says no one was willing to give him information.

He has sought redress in the lower courts and in the High Court but so far has found none even though his title has never been revoked.

On December 13, 2007, the law firm of P.J. Kakad and Company applied for a renewal of the lease on behalf of Nanak Management Services.

In an interesting turn of events, the same Lands office that had issued a lease renewal for Mr Mwangi granted Nanak another lease and ultimately, a new title deed in 2008.

Police opened an investigation file into the matter but it is still pending to date.

In the 1980s and the 1990s, Mr Mwangi had been having run-ins with City Council officials whom he accuses of running extortion rings on property owners.

To stay on the right side of things, he would keep up his payments of rates to the City Council and even started exceeding his payments.

Such was the chaos at the City Council that some amount that Mr Mwangi paid in the early 1990s was only reflected in the records in October 2004, more than a decade later.

A full reconciliation of the account conducted in 2007 showed that Mr Mwangi had actually overpaid his rates by more than Sh170,000.

“From the rates statement extracted for the period 1991 to the year 2007, it can clearly be seen that I have overpaid the account and the City Council owes me money,” Mr Mwangi says in court papers.

It would not be the last of his problems since Mr Mwangi was evicted from the property on April 24, 2009 and Nanak Hospital Management Services has been collecting the rent since. He has told the courts that he lost property worth more than Sh1.4 million during the eviction.

While Mr Mwangi says Nanak Hospital Management Services are trespassers, Nanak says the opposite and both flag their title deeds to confirm their stand.

The court journey has been drawn out and includes a case barring Nanak from selling the property which has taken Mr Mwangi to court about 17 times since 2011 but has never taken off.

The ongoing audit in the Lands ministry and reforms in the Judiciary give him hope that matters will come out in his favour when the case comes up in September.