It’s important that you know your rights as a tenant to avoid being exploited, used or otherwise taken advantage of by your landlord/lady. When you know your right, you are in a better position to advocate for your interests and defend yourself in controversial situations. The rights of a tenant begin from the time they start looking for a house to the point they move into the house and finally up to when they move out.
Most tenants in Kenya don’t know their rights and therefore end up to bear; threats, verbal abuse, unjustifiable rent increment, utilities cut off and improper waste disposal, among other problems in the hands of rogue landlords/ladies. Despite this some tenants choose to continue staying, majorly because shortage of proper and affordable housing in Kenya. Regardless, the tenant ought to know their rights under the law and as regards the tenancy agreement they’re signing, to avoid unnecessary inconveniences resulting from tenancy disputes.
There are a couple of laws that are incorporated in the Constitution of Kenya to govern the relationship between landlords and tenants.
- The Registered Land Act – This Act requires that the owner of the property keeps the premises habitable and fit for living. The Act further sets boundaries for leases and provides grounds under which one can be sued if found guilty of breaking these laws
- The Distress for Rent Act (Cap 293) – This act allows a landlord/lady to take the possession of the tenant so as to cover unpaid rent or damage caused by the tenant. This only comes into play if the tenant is unwell to remit such payments
- The Transfer of Property Act – This Act requires the property owner to disclose to the tenant any defects in a unit beforehand
- The Rent Restriction Act, (Cap. 296 of the Laws of Kenya) – This Act determines disputes between landlords and tenants of protected tenancies, which are residential buildings whose rent does not exceed Ksh 2,500
- The Landlord and Tenant (shops, hotels and catering establishments) Act (Cap 301) – This Act majorly covers commercial leases, but it also has some provisions that can be used by residential dwellings
Distress for Rent
The Distress for Rent Act gives property owners the mandate to seize or cause a seize of goods from a tenant that owes rent. If you owe your landlord/lady, rent in arrears, they can use the Act to sell your possessions in a bid to recover the amount owed. With this Act, the property owner does not have to seek a court order to recover rent. The law requires landlords/ladies to use licensed auctioneers to conduct the process, and once it has been passed to an auctioneer, the company or agency will conduct the process under the guidance of The Auctioneers Act.
1. Tenant rights when searching for a house
Tenant rights commence when the prospective tenant is searching for a house. You have the right to look for a house at any place within the country, without any objections. Equally you can live at any place without be discriminated against and potentially denied a house because of your age, gender, race, religion, nationality, colour, physical or mental status, or even marital status.
No person should be denied a house because they’re not married, has no family or otherwise children. There are places that are gender sensitive like hostels, regardless you need to know you’re your rights as a potential tenant. The landlord/lady should not have different conditions for different people moving in to their houses, in a bid to discriminate against others.
For instance, some landlords/ladies may demand that you pay more because you have a family, come from a specific religion or country of origin, or because of your race. You may find other landlords/ladies demanding that you don’t bring visitors to your home or be at home by a certain time. The landlord/lady is permitted to carry out a screen process to determine your creditworthiness (credit score), in regards to paying rent or other background checks, this should not be considered as discrimination.
2. Tenant rights when you move in
After you sign the lease/tenancy agreement and move in to the house, you formally become a tenant. You need to know your rights as a tenant to avoid any issues with your landlord/lady. Also, to avoid them taking advantage of you.
1. Right to live in a habitable house
You have the right to live in a habitable house, that is liveable and which you are comfortable with. It’s the duty of the landlord/lady to ensure that the house is in good condition and worth living in. Anything that requires repairs, for example if there’s any issue with the wiring, water supply, locks, toilet or anything else, they should fix it before or immediately you move in.
2. Right to privacy
After you move in to the house, the landlord/lady should accord you your privacy. They cannot enter your house without your permission, except in cases of emergency such as fire. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what they want to do, they must have your consent.
3. Right to safety
Your safety should always come first, regardless of where you are staying. It’s the duty of the landlord/lady to ensure that basic security measures are put in place, for instance; doors, windows and locks work properly. You also have the right to add extra locks, to guarantee your security and that of your property.
4. Right to maintenance
You have the right as a tenant to request for repairs, if there’s something that is broken and needs fixing. The landlord/lady should ensure that the necessary repairs are made upon getting the request. Always avoid making repairs on your own or without informing the landlord/lady, as they may not want changes made to their property. This might reduce your deposit amount when you decide to move out. However, if it is a small repair, you can simply do it on your own.
5. Right to be informed of rent increment
Before the landlord/lady increases the rent of your house, they should first give you a notice unless stated in the tenancy agreement. Typically, increases in rent happen when the lease agreement is being renewed or when someone is moving to a new house. The landlord/lady should issue you with a formal written notice/letter of the increase at least one month before. The landlord/lady may or may not give a reason for increasing the rent. The tenant has the right to object the increment, by notifying the landlord/lady within 30 days of receiving the notice. You can lodge your objections to rent increments with the Urban Tenants Association.
3. Tenant rights when moving out
After termination/end of your lease, as a tenant you still have rights that need to be observed by your landlord/lady when moving out of the premises.
1. Right to be refunded your deposit
Before you occupy a house, the landlord/lady will require you to pay a month’s rent and an equal amount as security deposit. This deposit is refundable in full, as longer as at the end of your lease contract you return the property in its original condition. When you move out, at the end of your lease agreement or otherwise termination of the agreement, you have the right to get your deposit back.
This is subject to the tenancy agreement, for instance the notice period, duration and state of the house. The time it takes for the landlord/lady to refund the deposit depends with the tenancy agreement, normally it’s refunded within 30 days after the lapse of the lease. If you vacate before the end of the agreement, the landlord/lady can wait until the expiry of the lease before giving you the deposit.
The landlord/lady is permitted to deduct an equivalent amount to cover for any damages you caused, they should provide you a list of the same, and refund any balance left. There are a number of situations when your landlord/lady may not refund you the full deposit; in case of non-payment of rent, damage of property or unpaid utilities such as electricity and water.
2. Right to be notified of eviction
The law stipulates the procedure of evicting tenants, the landlord/lady cannot evict tenants in any way they deem fit. If the landlord/lady decides to terminate your lease through eviction, they should provide you a written eviction notice stating clearly the reason behind the eviction, if it was not stated in the lease agreement. The notice must also have; the date on which the tenancy will end, signed by person issuing the notice and state the premises for which the notice is issued.
You must be provided with adequate time to look for a different house and subsequentially move out. After receiving the notice, you must prepare to vacate the house. If you do not vacate by the end of the stated date, the landlord may apply to a tenant tribunal for an order to terminate the tenancy and evict you. It’s only the Landlord and Tenant Tribunal that can legally evict you from a house. According to the law, a property owner cannot waive a notice of termination, create a new tenancy, or reinstate a tenancy by notice of rent increase.
3. Right to terminate lease agreement
If you don’t want to continue living in the said house, you have the right to serve the landlord/lady a notice and move out. Either party can terminate the lease by informing the other party depending with the tenancy agreement. You may feel obligated to move out or too afraid to inform the landlord/lady, but you shouldn’t because ultimately you are the one paying the rent.