Aware of the acute accommodation shortage in public universities, Ms Priscilla Mwangi decided to invest in a hostel in Gwa-Kairu in Ruiru, Kiambu County, in 2008.
But after eight months of juggling between managing it and overseeing the construction of another hostel, she was overwhelmed.
“The work was becoming too hectic. Students need a lot of attention since they have diverse needs. I realised I needed a property manager, so I hired one,” says Ms Mwangi.
However, in less than two months, the number of tenants started declining; in fact, some rooms would remain vacant for months. Her efforts to find out what the problem was from the manager yielded nothing. Since that had never happened under her watch, she believed the problem had to do with the manager, so she fired the manager.
“I hired another manager and things started improving but after about a month, they took a turn for the worse,” says Ms Mwangi.
Upon investigating to establish the cause of the problem, Ms Mwangi learnt that both property managers had been irresponsible; cleaning was done irregularly, and they gave female tenants preferential treatment.
“One of the students told me that pretty girls rarely ever got into trouble for playing loud music, unlike the not-so-beautiful girls and the men,” she says.
But with a second project ongoing, she still needed a manager for her hostel. “This time I hired someone I trusted, and a woman for a change. She has managed the property since then and the results are remarkable,” Ms Mwangi says.
GOVERNED BY LAW
Ms Mwangi’s experience is not unusual. Cases of unscrupulous property managers disappearing with monthly rental collections, cutting corners to make some money on the side or mistreating tenants are common. This has led to the rise of professional property management agencies.
“For landlords who are busy and have little experience in property management, it can be disastrous to hand their assets to a third party, especially if the individual does not live up to the landlord’s expectations,” says Ms Dorothy Wanjiru, a property management agent based in Ruiru.
Ms Wanjiru says that house owners should place their assets in the hands of a reputable company that knows how to go about the business and can follow up in case a tenant becomes troublesome.
“For instance, property management agencies are familiar with the prevailing market trends, so they can advise landlords on what to charge to avoid their houses remaining vacant for long,” says Ms Wanjiru, adding that it is important to screen tenants thoroughly to avoid potentially troublesome ones.
Mr Benjamin Musau, a property lawyer, says it’s paramount to understand the relationship between the landlord, property manager and the tenant.
“The relationship between the three is a contractual one that comes as a result of an agreement between the landlord and the tenant. This agreement is governed by the law of contract,” he offers.
He says engaging property managers without running a comprehensive background search on them is a big mistake.
In cases of uncouth behaviour like demanding tips from tenants for preferential treatment, the law is clear: bribery is an offence under the Bribery Act in Chapter Six of the Constitution,” he says, adding, “A person commits the offence of giving a bribe if the person offers, promises or gives a financial or other advantage to another person who knows or believes the acceptance of the financial or other advantage would itself constitute the improper performance of relevant function or activity.”
Mr Musau says that tenants who are subjected to such treatment should not suffer in silence but should raise the issue with the landlord. And landlords with irresponsible property managers should report them to the nearest police stations since failure to do so can lead to claims for damages for breach of contract by the tenant.