The importance of signing lease agreements

A tenant who found his office demolished following a dispute between the landlord and tenants. Many people who live in rented houses sometimes have to put up with inconsiderate landlords and agents. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Dramatic rent increases, withheld deposits and shoddy maintenance of  houses are some of the issues those renting homes face. Indeed, cases of tenants being thrown out without due legal procedures being followed are commonplace.
  • While the rights of both the landlord and tenant are stipulated in the Lands Act, many tenants are unaware of them, giving the landlords and agents an upper hand.
  • He adds that the  the document clearly stipulates the lease period, as well as the amount to be paid as rent and as deposit. Generally, most landlords ask for two or three months’ deposit and indicate the tenant’s obligations.

Many people who live in rented houses sometimes have to put up with inconsiderate landlords and agents. -

“I  had problems with three of my last agents,” says Agnes Wanja, 28, who lives in Thika. “One refused to fix a plumbing problem I found in the house. The second one locked my house because she had not seen my receipt, while the third refused to  refund my deposit.”

Kevin Waigwa, a 30-year-old businessman, has a similar complaint.  “When I moved into my previous house in Kitengela, I didn’t think I would have problems dealing with the agent. I paid my rent on time played by the rules. But when I moved out two years later, he kept Sh7,000 of the Sh13,000 deposit I had paid, saying he needed it to do some repairs. And that after I had nagged him for four months,” explains Mr Waigwa. “However, I later learnt that no repairs were carried out.”

Dramatic rent increases, withheld deposits and shoddy maintenance of  houses are some of the issues those renting homes face. Indeed, cases of tenants being thrown out without due legal procedures being followed are commonplace.

There is also a worrying trend in communal living spaces where some landlords and agents decide when the gate should be closed, and when tenants can access certain amenities. Such things happen mainly because many tenants do not know their rights.

 “Ideally, the role of an agent is to manage the property on behalf of the landlords – getting new tenants, collecting rent, clearing those who vacate and carrying out repairs. Sadly, most Kenyans have had nasty experiences with agents, a situation that is increasingly making landlords opt to manage their own property,” says Mr Patrick Rugo, a city-based property lawyer. “If tenants knew their legal rights and exercised them, they would reduce friction between them and landlords or housing agents.” 

Legal rights of a tenant

While the rights of both the landlord and tenant are stipulated in the Lands Act, many tenants are unaware of them, giving the landlords and agents an upper hand. The Rent Restriction Act and the Landlord and Tenants Act stipulate the process landlords should follow when recovering unpaid rent. Meanwhile, there are rent tribunals to resolve disagreements between landlords and tenants. 

“The rent determines the law that is applicable. If it is less than Sh2,500, the Rent Restriction Act applies.” says Mr Rugo.

This law protects low-income earners against arbitrary rent increments. The law, which was enacted in the colonial era, is yet to be reviewed. However, if the rent is above Sh2,500, the normal Law of Contract applies.

“At the beginning of the tenancy relationship, the landlord and the tenant should enter into a tenancy or lease agreement  that determines each party’s rights,” adds Mr Rugo. 

Tenancy agreement

Before a tenant moves into the new premises, he or she and the landlord should sign this agreement to show that they know what is expected of them. Strangely, many tenants don’t bother to sign such a document.

Mr Rugo says a tenancy agreement is important because it covers most of the contentious issues. “You’ll find that a normal standard tenancy agreement defines the premises that you are leasing and the scope of the premises. For example, if it is an apartment, it identifies the unit you are leasing and also  states that you are entitled to use the common areas because it is not a standalone property,” says Mr Rugo.

He adds that the  the document clearly stipulates the lease period, as well as the amount to be paid as rent and as deposit. Generally, most landlords ask for two or three months’ deposit and indicate the tenant’s obligations.

“Some landlords will include some provisions like renovation say, every year. If the tenancy is being terminated, you have to restore the house to the condition you found it in,” says Mr Rugo. 

Maintenance and repairs

Some maintenance costs are entirely the responsibility of the landlord while other repair costs might fall on the tenant. The tenancy agreement should clearly stipulate these distinctions.

“Normal repairs like fixing  broken window panes or spoilt door knobs  are the responsibility of the tenant, but if it is something to do with the structure, for example if it has cracks on the wall, it is the obligation of the landlord,” explains Mr Rugo.

The tenant should make payments on utilities while land rates paid annually to the central and county governments are entirely the obligation of the landlord. However, due to the prevailing economic conditions, some landlords h pass  on these extra costs to their tenants. 

Enjoyment of property

As a tenant you have the right to privacy. However, there have been instances where landlords or their agents have invaded their tenants’ privacy by visiting them at odd hours or denying them some privileges. According to the tenancy agreement, if the tenant is paying rent and has not contravened any terms on the lease, they should be allowed enjoyment of the premise.

 “As long as you are not in breach of your agreement, the landlord or their agent cannot just walk in at midnight and say, ‘I want to find out what you are doing.’ You should be allowed to enjoy the premises without undue or unreasonable disturbance by the landlord,” says Mr Rugo. 

Inspection of premises

The tenancy agreement should have a provision on  the inspection of the premises. Unless there is an emergency, the landlord and his agents should give the tenant notice a 48-hour prior to the inspection, Mr Rugo says. 

Rent increment

 If there is a disagreement, the tenant can engage a rent tribunal, which looks at the balance between the economic circumstances of the tenant and the  landlord’s need to get a return on his or her investment.  But generally, rent increments should be in line with the country’s inflation rates. 

Termination of the lease

If the tenant defaults on the rent, the landlord has the right to terminate the lease. However, the landlord should give notice before taking any action. 

“The standard  is three months, so if you don’t carry out the necessary repairs within the notice period, the landlord can terminate the lease, carry out the repairs and recover the cost from the security deposits, and refund you any balance,” says Mr Rugo.

If the deposit is not enough to cover the defaulted amount, the landlord can have the tenant’s propery auctioned. However, they must give you a two-week notice, during which, if  you make payments, they shouldn’t take any further action. But if you don’t, the auctioneers can come for your property. If they find the premises locked, they should obtain a break-in order from the court. They should also advertise your property before disposing of the to give you a chance to reclaim it.

Mr Rugo says people should consult professionals, such as lawyers and real estate agents to guide them on ttenancy agreements.

It is also important to keep a record of your rent payments to avoid future disputes.

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