Hi, my name is Sheila. I’m sorry to call you at 5am, but there is an emergency. I am a resident at Green Springs Apartments* (title changed) and got your number from the caretaker.
“There is a problem at your house. Your tenants have been arguing since 3am and it seems to be getting out of hand. We can hear a baby screaming and items being destroyed and they have refused to open the door. Are you in a position to come and sort out the matter?”
That was the call Michael Warui*(name changed) was woken up by on a Saturday in July last year.
Ordinarily, he would not have picked a call from a strange number at that hour, but something told him to just pick it. Call it his sixth sense.
“You know there are all sorts of conmen in this town and when I picked the call and it was a woman, I was more inclined to hang up. I mean, I don’t want trouble in my home.
“But I just listened and when she talked about Green Springs, my sleep disappeared. The first thing I hoped was that my apartment was not on fire. Once Sheila said it was an issue to do with the tenants, I breathed a little sigh of relief. That is a little easier to resolve. The key word here is a little. I have encountered all sorts of problems with tenants in my five years as a landlord.”
DREAM TURNED NIGHTMARE
Owning a house to live in is the dream of many Kenyans, and being a landlord is also considered an achievement and worthy investment.
But what happens when you have a problem tenant? The one that is a perennial late-payer of rent or defaults on paying rent altogether? Kick out the tenant, right?
Well, sometimes evicting a problem tenant is hard, as some refuse to budge and when they finally do, they leave debts and a trail of destruction in the form of a damaged house.
Warui narrates the six-month roller-coaster he underwent before finally evicting the problem tenants, who were not only notorious for causing a disturbance and were regulars at the police station reporting domestic squabbles, but were serial rent defaulters.
“After my conversation with Sheila, I at first decided not to go to the house because I thought it was just a domestic squabble and the couple would sort it out.
“But an hour later, I was called and told that the issue had escalated. The police had been called and were at the scene after the couple’s baby fell to the ground in the fracas.
“I rushed to the house to find the couple being carted away in a security vehicle as they hurled insults at each other.
ABUSING GUARDS, FELLOW TENANTS
“I was shocked at what was transpiring. The normally put-together woman (Wandera*) was a shadow of herself. The few times I had interacted with her, she seemed couth, but there she was, abusing the guards and other tenants.
Wandera’s boyfriend Tony* was silent and visibly embarrassed at how their dirty laundry was being aired for all and sundry.
I accompanied the couple to the police station and the baby was not left behind. The househelp carried her along.
What followed at the police station was more drama and shouting.
I wondered how this couple, who seemed sane when a property agent introduced them to me, had turned out to be crazy folk.
There were accusations and counter-accusations as the woman accused her boyfriend of not providing for her and their child and sleeping around. The man, in turn, accused the woman of partying every other night and leaving the househelp to raise their three-month-old baby.”
“I got bored of the back-and-forth and at one point contemplated leaving to let the police sort out the matter, until I was snapped back to reality by a statement by Tony, as he told the OCS she had damaged the doors of the house using a knife as she tried to attack him.
“At that point I just wanted the police to lock the two up and get back to the house to assess the damage.
TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION
After the incident was recorded in the OB, the two were released and told to return to the station on Monday. Meanwhile, we went back to the house to assess the damage.
And damaged the house was! Two doors had been damaged as Wandera allegedly stabbed them during fights.”
“At that point, I let Tony know I would be writing him a notice to vacate the premises and in a month, he would need to leave. I also reminded him to pay the rent for that month. He seemed to be agreeable to the demand, seeing the damage caused.
But the one-month notice period lapsed, and he hadn’t paid rent and the couple refused to budge.
At first, they gave excuse after excuse about looking for alternative accommodation, but the excuses turned into aggressive behaviour and they said they would not budge, nor would they pay rent.”
TO FORCE OR NOT TO FORCE?
“It is at this point that I considered engaging the services of a man who goes by the alias ‘Mbaya’. My fellow landlord friend told me about him. Apparently, the guy is able to get problem tenants to leave in record time. Of course using a variety of harassment tactics.
But I thought I did not want to go down the low road, so I hang in there. After six good months of nonpayment of rent and damage to my property, they finally left in the dead of night.
I spent close to Sh50,000 getting the house back to a habitable state, not to mention the loss I incurred from the accrued rent arrears.”
HOW TO AVOID PROBLEM TENANTS
Vet potential tenants. Don’t be afraid to do background checks: why are they leaving their previous house? Where do they work? If you can get in touch with previous landlords, the better. Sometimes it seems like a hassle, but you could avoid a problem tenant by doing some simple research. Also, use Dr Google to get some information of potential tenants.
Be wary of people who are unable to raise the deposit and rent for the first month. If they are already starting the tenant-landlord relationship with promises of ‘I don’t have the full amount, but I’ll pay you in installments’, then you need to think twice. Yes, people can go through hard times, but being a landlord is like any other business – money talks. You invested to make money, so if the tenant doesn’t seem financially stable, you might want to think twice. As with anything in life, exceptions apply.
References might help. Sometimes landlords have had vacant houses for a long period and are desperate to get tenants so they do not bother to ask for references to attest to how responsible a tenant is, but it might be worth considering to avoid more problems down the line.
Ensure you have a written tenancy agreement that spells out what is allowed and what is not allowed so that in case of breach of contract, it is easier to take up the case legally.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
Tenants have a right to oppose eviction or termination of tenancy by opposing application of the landlord at a tribunal.
A landlord can instruct a lawyer to engage a licensed auctioneer to sell a tenant’s property to recover arrears, but this must be done with the permission of a tribunal.
Illegal seizure amounts to trespass and could make the landlord have to compensate the offending tenant.
Arbitrary hiking of rent is illegal. Landlords are required to give 90 days’ notice of a rent rise. They are allowed to increase rent to cover inflation or to cover extra services, which must be explained in the rent rise notice. The Rent Restriction Act spells out what is allowed, though the scope of buildings covered is limited.
* – names have been changed to protect identities.
Source: Star/Claire Munde