Nairobi Landlords Deploying Gangs to Handle Defaulting Tenants

A line of highrise rental houses in Nairobi
A line of highrise rental houses in Nairobi.

A number of landlords in Nairobi have resulted in hiring gangs to recover rent arrears from defaulting tenants, according to multiple sources.

The incidents, however, are more prominent in the informal settlements of Mathare and Kibra where the unit owners go to extreme measures to recover their dues from low-income residents.

This past year has seen an increasing number of defaulters due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A report detailing the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 in the country released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) in May 2020, revealed that 30 percent of Kenyans were not able to pay their rent in the month of April and projected that as much as 61 percent of Kenyans were unable to pay in May. 

In such areas, landlords have had to go for months without rent collection which has seen some of them deploy goons in a bid to threaten tenants to pay up or vacate the houses. 

Scenes in Kawangware when residents confronted the men contracted to evict them on August 13, 2020.
Scenes in Kawangware where residents confronted the men contracted to evict them on August 13, 2020.

A landlord in Mathare with 30 units said that he had not gotten rent dues from several units for five months where a single room goes for Ksh 2,000.

He observed that the defaulting tenants would find ways to avoid him until he caught up with them and evicted them.

The gangs who work to deliver results for the landlords are brutal in their operations.

In an interview with an international TV channel, a gang member disclosed that they are paid up to Ksh1,000 per operation.

"We have had to beat up people to make them pay up or even destroy their items in the house when evicting them," the man explained.

He added that the more brutal they are, the more they impress the landlord who is likely to contract them for future jobs.

The gangs are also contracted in middle-income neighbourhoods like Kasarani and Kawangware. In September 2020 a children's home in the Kasarani area was forcefully evicted by goons hired by a landlord over rent arrears despite an ongoing court case.

Speaking to at the time, an official who worked at the home stated that the men showed up without prior warning and began destroying the premises.

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Months earlier in Kawangware, tenants who had defaulted paying rent were in August 2020 forced to fight off goons who had been contracted to evict them.

The residents had requested to be given more time to clear rent arrears but that was met with the agency disconnecting electricity and water for some of the tenants and the discontinuation of garbage collection services. 

Rental rights of a tenant

A landlord does not have the right to evict a tenant arbitrarily. The law lays out a procedure for evicting tenants from properties.

First, a landlord must give you a notice of termination. The notice must be in a prescribed form and must state the date on which the tenancy will end, be signed by the person issuing the notice, identify the premises you live or for which the notice is given and it must also set out the details and reasons for terminating the tenancy.

After getting a notice, the tenant must vacate the premises by the stated date. If one does not vacate by the end of the stated date, the landlord may apply to a tribunal for an order to terminate the tenancy and enforce the eviction.

Tenants, as well as landlords, are also encouraged to take up such disputes with the Rent Tribunal if they fail to resolve them.

The Tribunal is anchored in the Rent Restriction Act, Chapter 296 of the Laws of Kenya meant to protect tenants from exploitation by landlords while guaranteeing the landlord reasonable profits from investment in housing.

Rental houses in Donholm, Nairobi

Proposed Bill on Tenant Landlord Agreement

A Landlord and Tenants Bill is currently in parliament which seeks to give tenants more rights in the rental arrangement.

The bill proposes that landlords and tenants agree on the fair amount of rent based on the market rent and prescribed services.

Tenants will also be protected from the arbitrary increase of rent by landlords with the bill requiring landlords to provide a signed explanation entailing reasons for the increase, which should only happen after 12 months after the last increase for residential and two years for business premises.

"Landlords will also have to give a one-year notice before evicting tenants in residential premises and a two-year notice for business premises," reads part of the proposed law. 

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