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Opinion & Analysis

What the law says about illegal evictions

APARTMENTS IN UPPERHILL, NAIROBI. FILE PHOTO | NMG
APARTMENTS IN UPPERHILL, NAIROBI. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Across the country next weekend, and the week after, thousands of landlords will break the law.

Faced with tenants who are late with the rent, from around the 5th of the month, they will begin a festival of illegal evictions.

Onto the tenants’ doors will go padlocks. All the tenant’s worldly goods will be locked inside: their laptop, their thesis, their prescription medicines, their phone charger, their clothes, everything.

The law-breaking landlords will then refuse to grant the tenant access again until they have paid the month’s rent. Wrong, and law breaking from top to bottom.

The reality is that many of those tenants will be days late because their salaries haven’t been paid. Late salaries are endemic in Kenya. They affect county workers, periodically.

In struggling businesses, salaries get later and later. Even in mainstream SMEs they are frequently delayed. Domestic workers, drivers, askaris, all frequently have to wait.

And then they get illegally evicted. Yet the law is extremely clear on landlords’ rights in the face of late rent. Once the rent is late, they can serve a 30-day notice seeking remedy. If the tenant does not pay the rent within 30 days, then tenants can quite legally be evicted.

For those who padlock, they fall on the wrong side of the law doubly over. Not only is the eviction itself illegal, but, from the minute that padlock goes on, the law is absolutely explicit: all rights to rent from that day end. A landlord has no rights under their lease or under the law for rent on the illegally padlocked property.

Of course, for all next week’s locked out tenants, that’s about as helpful as being told they have the right to cherries if they walk to Timbuctoo. The law doesn’t matter in Kenyan life, as we all know.

Yes, the tenant can sue, but the wait for a hearing in the Land Courts will be a long one. The court case will cost. And if the tenant doesn’t give in to the illegal demands of their landlord for rent, including for when they were locked out, they aren’t ever going to get that thesis back. So they pay.

In other countries, routine matters of daily law breaking on contracts, have simple fast-track courts to stop the rot.

But the fact is that in almost all areas where we have rights, they are effectively nulled by the queues in our courts. So people don’t sue.

If they began to, if they paid the rent and got their laptops back, but ALSO filed in court, the country’s scourge of illegal evictions would eventually begin to turn. And tenants will find the compensation is worth the effort.

Landlords typically have to pay tenants the equivalent of several months’ rent for an illegal eviction, and if the landlord threatens them as well, the penalty can even be jail.

However, with courts a long-term revenge option, rather than anything that can solve the problem, there are other things tenants can do. The truth is that our landlords don’t seem to be a very law-abiding lot.

Wave after wave of efforts to get them to pay taxes on their rental earnings haven’t yet yielded a nation of tax paying landlords. If you’re dealing with a padlocker and illegal evictor, the chances aren’t that high they are simultaneously observing the law on tax.

It only takes an email with a scan of your lease to the Kenya Revenue Authority, and you could make that landlord just a little more mindful of the fact that law exists.

It’s petty compensation, for all the thousands of Kenyans who will be sleeping with their siblings, friends, or even outside next week.

However, laws don’t go far, when the courts aren’t there that can enforce them inside two years of lawyers’ fees and waiting.

Every illegally evicted Kenyan should file suit on their landlord, is the truth. But until they do, maybe it might help just one mite to know that landlord hasn’t a single legal right on their side in locking you out. There are rules.

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