Unjustifiable rent increment, verbal abuse, threats, utilities cut off and improper waste disposal are just but a few of the problems city tenants are faced with in the hands of rogue landlords.
The question is why do tenants choose to stay despite the manifest harassment by landlords? Simply because tenancy is rarely a choice at all.
The shortage of proper and affordable housing in Nairobi, for instance, has created an enormous number of desperate people clamouring for the few affordable houses and homes.
According to real estate agents, as long as there are desperate people, there will be unscrupulous landlords who abuse the power dynamic to harass, intimidate and even increase rent without following the due process.
To avoid unnecessary inconveniences resulting from tenancy disputes, it is important that the tenant knows his or her rights under the law and as regards the tenancy agreement he is signing.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about your right as a tenant in Kenya.
Laws that govern landlords and tenants in Kenya
No matter what situation you are in, it’s always good to know your rights to avoid getting used or taken advantage of by people.
When you have the right information, you feel confident tackling any issue and you will be in a better position to advocate for your interests.
The topic of tenant rights is an important one for both the tenants and landlords.
If the tenant is not happy, that means there is something wrong with the property, and as a landlord, you need to rectify the issue as soon as possible.
Your rights as a tenant begin from the time you start looking for a house to the moment you have safely secured your deposit once you decide to move out from that house.
The following laws have been incorporated in the Kenyan constitution to govern the relationship between landlords and tenants.
1. The Registered Land Act
It requires that property owners must keep their premises habitable.
It also sets boundaries for leases and grounds for which one can be sued if found guilty of breaking these laws.
2. The Landlord and Tenant (shops, hotels and catering establishments) Act (Cap 301)
The law covers commercial leases. But there are some provisions within it that residential dwellings can also use.
3. The Distress for Rent Act (Cap 293)
The Act allows landlords to take a tenant’s possessions for compensation.
It is worth noting that there has been a motion in the recent past that lobbied for the reduction of the mandate of landlords over termination. It states that they should, first of all, go to court to terminate the agreement.
4. The Transfer of Property Act
The Act requires a property owner to disclose to a tenant any defects in a unit.
It also governs the way leases are made by making it a requirement for any defects to be listed beforehand.
5. The Rent Restriction Act, (Cap. 296 of the Laws of Kenya)
Its mandate is to determine disputes between landlords and tenants of protected tenancies, which are residential buildings whose rent does not exceed Ksh2500.
Here are some key areas of the law you should know as a tenant with the regards to the laws listed above.
Distress for Rent
Kenya has Distress for Rent Act. It is a law that gives property owners the mandate to seize or cause a seize of goods from a tenant that owes rent.
So, if you are in arrears of more than a month, your landlord will use the act to try and sell your goods to recover the money you owe them.
In this case, a property owner does not have to seek a court order to recover rent.
The law requires landlords to use licensed auctioneers to conduct the process.
Once it is in the hands of an auctioneer, the company or agency will conduct the process under the guidance of The Auctioneers Act.
The tenancy laws in Kenya help to avoid situations like tenant bullying landlord and vice versa.
A landlord does not have the right to evict a tenant in any way he deems fit.
The law lays out a procedure of evicting tenants from properties.
First, a landlord must give you a notice of termination.
The notice must be in a prescribed form and must:
State the date on which the tenancy will end
Be signed by the person issuing the notice
Identify the premises you live or for which the notice is given
If you receive the notice, it must also set out the details and reasons for terminating the tenancy.
After getting a notice, you must vacate the premises. If you do not vacate by the end of the date stated, the landlord may apply to a tribunal for an order to terminate the tenancy and evict you.
There have been instances where landlords increase rent for tenants who refuse to vacate their premises. That is unlawful.
The law says a property owner cannot waive a notice of termination, create a new tenancy, or reinstate a tenancy by notice of rent increase.
Both parties must agree to it. Generally, it is only a Landlord and Tenant Tribunal that can legally evict you from a house.
Even before the order comes out, the tribunal must determine that the reasons stated for are accurate and justifiable.
A landlord cannot increase your house’s rent without notice unless stated in a tenancy agreement.
Typically, such increments happen when a person is renewing their lease agreement.
It also happens when one is moving to a new house.
You must receive a formal letter stating when the property owner will increase rent.
The letter or written notice must give you at least one month to inform you of the coming changes.
A landlord may or may not give a reason for increasing the rent.
On the other hand, you have the right to object to the increment.
If you choose to object, you must notify your landlord within 30 days after receiving the notice.
The Urban Tenants Association is one legal body you can use to lodge your objections on the increments.
Always expect such changes to happen after some repairs to the house or when there is inflation in Kenya.
Before occupancy, landlords require tenants to pay the rent in advance and another equal amount as a security deposit.
The deposit you give before occupancy is refundable.
You can claim it once you return the property in its original conditions at the end of your lease contract.
The law on deposits isn’t explicitly included in the constitution and as a result, there are cases of breaches that go unpunished.
The duration for a refund of rent deposit will depend on what is stated on the tenancy agreement.
In some cases, it is usually within 30 days after the end of a lease agreement. Should you move before the end of the agreement, your landlord can wait until the expiry of the lease before giving you the deposit.
Understand that rental deposit laws also protect the landlord.
In simple terms, there are situations where you will not get back the full amount.
Non-payment of rent
Damage to the property
Unpaid utilities such as electricity and water
If a landlord decides not to pay, find out the reasons for such a decision. Speak to them amicably to get a refund.
You have the right to be in a place that’s comfortable and liveable.
The landlord should make sure that his property is in good condition and make it easier for you to live there.
For example, if there is a problem with the wiring, water supply, lighting or electricity, he needs to fix them either before you move in or make sure that it is sorted as soon as possible.
If you come across anything that is broken and needs fixing, it is your right as a tenant to make a maintenance request to have it sorted by the landlord.
He should make all the necessary repairs when you make a request from him.
Avoid making major repairs on your own because the landlord may not want any changes done on his property.
This might reduce your deposit amount when you decide to move out. However, if it is a small repair, you can always do it on your own.
Right to Privacy
Once you move in, the landlord can’t enter your property without your consent.
It doesn’t matter what they are trying to do, they need to have your permission before they can access your house.
The only exception would be if there is an emergency such as a fire.
Also, your safety is of utmost importance no matter where you are staying.
The landlord should make sure that the doors, windows and locks work properly to ensure your safety. If you want to add extra locks, you have the right to do so.