Why tenants should avoid nasty landlords

There are moments when it seems doubtful if there is a point to a single law on Kenya’s books. For, if laws are written with gaping loopholes, and then no enforcement, what is the point of having the law at all? We are literally left with none. Let’s take the laws on tenancies. The truth is there is just about zero recourse in law, and landlords regularly run amok. But there is an answer: to understand negotiation and leverage, and counter illegal bullying with legal solutions.A case in point, last month, was one of my own staff. A solid tenant, and conscientious, with her rent paid promptly every month for two years, she got a letter on 23rd November from her landlord informing her of a rent rise effective from 1st November, as in, backdated.Landlords are supposed to give 90 days’ notice of a rent rise. But there’s a potential loophole on an expiring lease. The letter stated that her lease had expired and so this was the price for the new lease.Actually, an expiring lease doesn’t give landlords the right to backdate or deliver a rise with notice of only days – but the law and courts and judges do seem pretty hazy on this and it’s not properly covered in our statute.And the landlords are anyway not too bothered with the law – what are you going to do as a tenant, take them to court? And that will take three to five years and cost you a fortune.So, my employee asked for a meeting with the landlord, and said that the law required 90 days’ notice. His response: ‘Let’s not talk about that: you can pay the new rent or move out.’ And she said: ‘OK, I’ll move out, but you need to then immediately refund my two months’ deposit.’

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Now, here is the equation that many tenants do not appreciate – nor often landlords either. An empty property earns a landlord nothing. If he holds a property for even a single month vacant, and was trying to get 10 percent more for the rent, it will take him almost a year to recoup that vacant month’s income at the higher rent once he’s refilled.And faced with a good tenant, which I am told is perhaps not always the norm, prompt rent payment and good property care, it might just be worth staying with the law and giving 90 days’ notice.In fact, in all, the thing that gets lost in the landlord – tenant relationship is that it is a two-way relationship. The landlord is NOT doing the tenant a favour taking their money. They also want to rent the property. So, my employee’s story has a happy ending – for her, and actually for the landlord. With three days to end-month, she began looking for a new property: an easy enough thing to find.There are plenty. And got a visit from one of the landlord’s people. “What do you actually want,” he asked. And she said: “Well first, I want to know why the rent is going up? None of the rents around here have risen. Why is only this one going up?”The matter was resolved. She didn’t move out. Her rent didn’t go up. She was issued a new lease at the existing rent. The landlord remains with a prompt and conscientious tenant at market rates. And she remains in the same property.So, it wasn’t the law that helped at all. And here is the biggest lesson of all in navigating our enforcement-empty landscape, and it comes from the power that underpins all consumer rights everywhere.Our spend is power. The seller wants it. And if we don’t like their terms, that we can take our money elsewhere. And it’s just that simple. Shop around for a landlord that sticks with the rules and is reasonable, and stay with them.And yes, moving is a nuisance, but a bad and illegal landlord is a far bigger nuisance. So guys, fire them! There’s the trick. Move out. And leave them with the headache their bullying has created.

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