After moving from Nasra Estate in Umoja to Westlands, which was more accessible and convenient to and from work, Ms Cynthia Oduor decided to rent out her four-bedroom house in Umoja to boost her monthly income. But it was more difficult than she had imagined.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
“Finding a Kenyan who was willing to pay Sh45,000 a month was almost impossible,” says Ms Oduor, a lecturer at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). With no potential client in sight she was desperate, and was considering lowering the rent when a foreigner came by looking for a house.
“Within two weeks, they had signed a contract, and the tenant had paid rent plus a month’s deposit. I thought I had found the right tenant and was overjoyed, little knowing that my happiness would be short-lived,” she says.
Three months later, trouble started: the tenant paid only the rent, but not the electricity or water bills, apparently believing that the Sh45,000 she was paying was inclusive of all other expenses, except food. And this even though there was an interpreter during the signing of the contract to explain things to her.
But apart from the language barrier, foreign tenants sometimes pay in foreign currency, and if the tenant comes from a war-torn country, irregular cash flow from their country can lead to late payments, says Ms Oduor.
She says the terms of engagement were clearly stipulated in the contract but for some reason, the tenant did not understand them.
“ Sometimes I had to go for the rent in person, contrary to the mode of payment we had been agreed upon, “she recounts, adding bitterly, “by the time we agreed that she vacate the premises, I was left with huge outstanding electricity and water bills to settle.”
Ms Oduor says that despite many foreigners’ ability to pay for houses, housing them is a big gamble. “This is because if the tenant decides to pack up and leave, tracing them is a nightmare because with a passport, they can easily move to another country,” she says.
Marie Koech, 22, a student at Kenyatta University whose mother is a landlady in Eldoret, also knows the risk of renting out a house to a foreigner.
“Living with foreigners is an awesome experience. You get to learn a lot from each other due to the different cultures. The problem is, some of them live up to 10 people in a two-bedroom house. There is no law against that, but cramming so many people in a house that size has its consequences. The occupants sometimes make structural adjustments to suit them. For instance, fixing an extra door to create more space, thereby altering the original design of the house,” she says.
She says her mother, who had been playing nice with tenants, lived to regret it.
“When a tenant explained the difficulties they were facing, my mother let them be, as long as they promised to pay,” she offers. That was until November 3, 2015.
“One of the tenants moved out in the middle of the night unnoticed. She had two months’ rent arrears and was a foreigner so we could not trace her easily. From that day, my mother decided that she would rather rent her houses to locals and earn less than house a foreigner with big bucks and risk a similar stunt,” she says.
Mr Geoffrey Odongo, a property lawyer at Ameli Inyangu & Partners , says there is no single foolproof way of keeping tabs on a tenant to make sure that they do not disappear with your money. However, where a foreigner is involved, there are a few factors the landlord can consider.
Noting that it is against the law to confiscate their passports since it is the document that facilitates their movements he adds: “To cushion yourself from such atrocities, take a risk premium. Due to the risk involved, take a deposit of up to three months, if possible. Also, conduct a thorough research on your tenant’s culture. For instance, Tanzanians are used to paying up to six months’ rent at once. If one has such knowledge about a tenant, knowing how to communicate with them makes things easy.”
As a last resort, Mr Oduor says, if the tenant is unable to pay, the law allows the landlord to seek help from licensed auctioneers, who are allowed to enter the property and recover money on behalf of the landlord within 14 days.
“If your tenant refuses to pay up, they are given a notice is indicating the period in which they should pay.
After taking property whose net worth is enough to cover the landlords’ rents arrears, the assets are auctioned and the money given to the landlord,” he says.