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Role landlords can play to curb spread of Covid-19

Wednesday May 27 2020
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If you’re dealing with younger tenants, prohibiting house parties may also help curb the spread. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By SYOVATA NDAMBUKI

As the days go by, so does the number of Covid-19 cases rise.

A week ago, Kibera, Embakasi, Lang’ata and Kamukunji dominated the list of neighbourhoods with the highest numbers of new cases of Covid-19.

Before this, a number of infections were reported in Kilimani, Pipeline area in Eastlands, Kawangware, South C, and Karen. It seems Nairobi is Kenya’s hardest hit region by the virus.

A few days ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that Covid-19 might be here to stay.

As governments begin to ease lockdowns, it is clear that the ball is in our court. While we all have a personal responsibility to control the spread, when you have an investment, the stakes will always be higher.

Should one of your tenants test positive for Covid-19, imagine a scenario where half of your renters are quarantined for two weeks. Would you expect rent at the end of the month?

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It’s around 2.30pm in Kibera, one of the neighbourhoods in Nairobi with a high number of Covid-19 infection cases. The fact that this is a densely populated area makes it more vulnerable to the pandemic.

At Makina Bus Stop, numerous boda-boda and tuk-tuk operators line up for customers. Some of them have masks on, while others don’t. For those with masks, only a few wear them properly.

SAFETY RULES VIOLATED

The tuk-tuks load passengers to full capacity despite the call for social distancing. Hand-washing stations are conspicuous under small tents manned by attendants, but they go unnoticed.

No one stops to wash their hands. While it is not expected that people here would be locked up inside their houses, it is surprising to see numerous clusters of people seated outside buildings and houses talking.

In some instances, small groups gather to play a type of board game similar to chess. Those playing have their masks hanging loosely around their necks, leaving their noses and mouths exposed.

At the market, there are several hand-washing facilities. People squeeze through the small market entrance to make their way into the market.

At around 3pm, one can hear Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe announcing the day’s new cases through the numerous radios in shops. On this particular day, Kibera has recorded 13 new cases.

Over the past few months, it has been established that a pandemic affects the economy and people’s health the most.

When an area is unable to curb the virus’ spread, people’s ability to run their businesses or go to work is inhibited. And with that comes the inability to afford basic needs, including rent money.

In the worst case scenario, when an area turns into a hotspot, the government would declare cessation of movement into and out of the area.

As at now, two areas have been slapped with such a directive - Eastleigh, here in Nairobi, and Old Town in Mombasa.

ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN

About three weeks ago, Eastleigh recorded 29 cases in a single day, which prompted the government to declare cessation of movement into and out of the area for 14 days.

The neighbourhood is famed for being a thriving commercial centre that controls a big chunk of the apparel industry. Majority of people selling clothes, shoes and home accessories get their stock from Eastleigh.

Such a containment measure on an area has a ripple effect, which trickles down to everyone, including those who have invested in commercial spaces in the area.

It is expected that businesses would perform poorly and that would mean closure or inability to pay for the commercial spaces they have rented for their business.

Subsequently, the landlord would be affected, too, since his tenants would not have money for rent.

In the past, the government has shown a pattern of extending containment measures, depending on whether the numbers go down or up.

In Eastleigh, the numbers have not been as alarming as they were a few weeks ago, but a brief conversation with a resident reveals that the measures are being taken for granted.

With a pandemic, cessation of movement, affected businesses and a curfew to observe, you would expect people to observe every measure in this area.

Wickliffe Omondi, a resident of Eastleigh Phase Three, however, paints a different picture. “Things have been normal all through,” he says.

OLD NORMAL

And by normal, he means the old norm. He explains that children continue to play without masks and while adults adorn masks, a majority of them leave their noses and mouths uncovered.

On cessation of movement, Wickliffe says people continue to move in and out of Eastleigh. He reveals that outsiders, especially business people, give bribes to those guarding the borders to gain entry into the commercial areas.

Also, as the days go by, the rules on entry and exit continue to ease up. As for hand-washing, he notes that water and soap have been placed on strategic locations but they attract little to no attention from the residents.

People also defy guidelines on social distancing, especially when rushing to beat the dusk to dawn curfew.

“Crowding is common in the evening when most people are hurrying home to get home before 7pm,” says Wickliffe.

In addition, those who don’t go to work, especially the youth, have a tendency of idling in small groups to talk or chew khat.

The idling stations are commonly known as “base” in slung and they obviously go against social distancing rules.

It’s unlikely that the virus would stop spreading in entirety when majority of people are unable to adhere to set guidelines.

HOTSPOTS

While a majority of hotspots may be occupied by low or middle income earners, the pandemic has not been that discriminative.

Areas such as Lang’ata Constituency host middle-upper and upmarket neighbourhoods such as South C, Lang’ata, Karen, Nairobi West and Nyayo High Rise. Cases in Lang’ata constituency as a whole continue to rise.

For instance, on May 26, the area had the highest number of new cases (21 cases) in Nairobi followed by Dagoretti North, which had 15 new cases.

A spot check in South C, one of the Lang’ata wards with several mentions, shows that there are a number of risk factors that could turn this middle-upper neighbourhood into a hotspot.

Most of the estates are gated communities, housing bungalows, maisonettes and apartments in equal measure.

It is hard to come across crowds of people idling in the neighbourhoods or walking in clusters; however, at the shopping centre, one thing stands out - Miraa joints.

Those chewing the leaves seat on wooden benches close to each other and as expected, they have to remove their masks to enjoy the stimulant.

A kiosk can host up to 10 or more people at a go, thus increasing the risk of spreading the virus, in case one of them is infected.

To add insult to injury, there are no hand-washing facilities in public spaces as seen in other neighbourhoods.

MARKET VALUE

Like South C, most neighbourhoods have a weak link, which paves way for the virus to spread.

For some, it’s frequent house parties and gatherings, while for others it could be dense populations, open markets or a particular popular joint that attracts crowds.

Unfortunately, when an upmarket neighbourhood turns into a hotspot, the possibility of property prices dropping is quite high.

Bear in mind that upmarket tenants cough up a lot more to cater for intangible value in the form security, serenity, cleanliness and most importantly image.

What is worrisome is the stigma surrounding Covid-19. Such stigma can easily transfer from people to places and in the long-term if an upmarket neighbourhood is unable to curb the spread of Covid-19, it may easily lose its status and market value.

Very few would want to pay high amounts of rent if the spaces they call home turn out to be hotspots.

The landlords’ role

While curbing the spread of this virus is a collective responsibility, property owners can go the extra mile to protect their investments.

One does not need to check tenants’ temperatures or instal sanitizer booths everywhere, basic soap and water outside a building coupled with a “no entry before washing hands” rule could go a long way.

You may also print “no idling” posters and paste them on your building to discourage crowding. If you’re dealing with younger tenants, prohibiting house parties may also help curb the spread.

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