In 2008, Serah Mwangi’s husband took a bank loan, which they used to build a house in Kongo Estate in Kahawa West, Nairobi.
But three years ago, their house was extensively damaged after an excavator brought down a condemned building with which it shared a wall.
The Mwangis’ nightmare began in May 2015, when the owner of the ill-fated building decided to put up additional floors; it originally comprised single rooms on the ground floor.
But since the building’s foundation was not intended for a storied structure, it soon began leaning towards Ms Mwangi’s four-bedroom house.
Concerned, Ms Mwangi and neighbouring tenants alerted the Nairobi County authorities. When the authorities came, they ordered all the tenants and neighbours out before demolishing the building.
Once proud homeowners, the Mwangis now live in a one-bedroom house, whose Sh10,000 monthly rent they can barely pay. They have rent arrears of more than Sh92,000 because they have other expenses such as educating their three children.
“After building our house, I never imagined I would have to hustle for house rent again. Now we can’t even feed our family,” she laments.
The mother of three says all was well, until they noticed cracks on the walls of their new house.
“When I reported the matter to the owner of the building and showed him around the house, he said, “Mkishajenga nyumba bila plan sasa mnataka niwajengee nyumba,” she recalled.
Ms Mwangi, who makes and sells school uniforms at Kahawa Market, says money has become scarce since they are using her husband’s salary to repay the loan.
She blames corrupt City Hall inspectors who turned a blind eye to the building even as it became a danger to her home.
Ms Mwangi is depressed, and it is understandable.
A study conducted in 2013 by the UK’s NatCen Social Research on shelter found out that living in poor housing affects women more than men. It further found that mothers were more likely to suffer clinical depression if they lived in bad housing; 10 per cent of the mothers who lived in very bad housing were clinically depressed.
Ms Mwangi’s children are also depressed, and it is showing in their academic performance. In fact, her 17-year-old son developed suicidal tendencies.
Another study conducted in Britain by Shelter/YouGov found out that housing costs caused stress and depression among millions of families.
While she has contemplated seeking legal redress, Ms Mwangi says she cannot afford to hire a lawyer. She has also approached the Nairobi County government to help her return to former house, but in vain.
HAD TO CREATE A SCENE
She had to create a scene at City Hall to get the county government’s attention.
“Ilibidi nisimame hapo katikati ya City Annex na City Hall nikipiga nduru, na MCA mmoja akaniuliza ‘Ni nini mama?’ I explained my case, after which she took me to the governor’s personal assistant,” she recalls.
“I have asked them to help me remove the debris from the compound so that I can see the way forward.
But the city’s executive in charge of Land, Housing and Urban Planning, Mr Charles Kerich, says that before a developer is allowed to start building, they must submit a drawing and a request for approval. The documents are submitted to the technical committee, which checks whether the plan meets all the requirements. If it does, the developer is asked to pay for, and then given, an approval permit.
“If it does not meet them, the applicant is told why it has failed and are given time to go and make the necessary changes,” Mr Kerich says.
But he acknowledges that some people build even without approval. In such cases, the county, through the Planning and Enforcement Department, can decide to demolish the structure or give the developer a chance to regularise it, that is, to show that the building is structurally sound before formally applying for the plan to be adjusted.
“The county has a Planning and Enforcement Department that inspects buildings in the county and if they find that you have gone beyond what is expected, the construction is stopped or demolished,” he says.
Mr Kerich points out that if the county demolishes an illegal structure, the liability and cost of the demolition is on the owner.
“The person affected should get their lawyers to send a demand note to the owner of the illegal structure that was demolished,” he says.