Nairobi rental house guide: 10 things to consider

rental house

How to find the best rental house in Nairobi

If you are moving to or living in Nairobi, you probably have met one or more of these people:

  1. An agent who asks for 1,000 shillings or more in order to show you a house. He/she does not own or manage the property, but you must pay them to be taken to the property.
  2. A tenant who is moving out and wants you to be paying them so they can pay the landlord on your behalf, or you refund the rent or deposit they had paid. The reasoning behind this is to help you continue enjoying the current rental terms, mainly to avoid increments that new tenants are subjected to.
  3. An agent who has advertised for a house online but is away. He/she tells you that other people have already viewed, and actually, someone wants to enter today. They ask you to pay the deposit urgently so as to secure the house.
  4. You have been staying at a rental and want to move out. You give the caretaker/landlord/landlady/managers notice and wait for the month to end. As you leave, they tell you not to worry about the deposit because they will send it to you later. Once you leave, they claim to have spent all the deposit money repainting the house, replacing broken things that you found broken, or claim to be new management unable to settle the debt.
  5. You live in a rental only for the landlady or landlord to bring you notice of rent increment or some new charges beginning the following month.
  6. You sign a contract to be paying rent on 5th, yet your boss pays on 10th and have to keep paying penalties for late rent payment.
  7. You get into a new house only to get an electricity bill of 30,000 shillings because the previous tenant left a pending bill.

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These are some of the issues tenants face when dealing with landlords and rental property owners. There are also problems that arise when dealing with other tenants. These include: hanging clothes with running colours over your white clothes, shoes, and pegs getting lost, children denting your car when playing among others.

Here are 10 things to consider before moving into a new rental house in Nairobi:

#1: Initial condition of rental house

I once helped someone rent a house in its own compound. Whenever we went to check and asked the caretaker about water, he said the owner was not in to provide the pump. After we made payments, we were told to buy a water pump and a tank to serve as a reservoir before the water went up to the rooftop tank. The landlady had demanded a two-month deposit, and it was really hard to purchase all these things as we did not budget for them. With the initial lack of water, we could not tell that one toilet cistern was leaking and another bathroom shower unable to give hot water. These had to be fixed later.

Similarly, there are landlords who tell you the taps are dry because the water has not been pumped that day, only to realise that people in that area buy their own water at a rate of 50 shillings per can. this is very common in Embakasi and Uthiru. I almost rented such a house but was lucky to see stashes of jerrycans on tenants’ balconies. When I asked a neighbour about water in that region, he said the supply was cut off some years back.

Apart from water and hot shower, you need to check for signs of leaks on the roof. Most of the master bedrooms I’ve lived in were leaking at the roof. I’d find water droplets on the bed or bedroom flour only to realise that the bathroom upstairs was leaking! You will always see signs of a leak with uneven paint at the roof. Another thing you need to look out for is any kind of swelling on the walls. Some owners use poor quality materials to build their houses and hence after a short while, the wall swells and bursts open, pouring cement on the floor and leaving an ugly wall behind – which you will be forced to repair as you move out.

When it comes to waste disposal, you need to ensure that there is a proper sewerage system lest you will be forced to deal with unpleasant smells and roaches that hide in such environments. Also, ask about garbage – whether they provide bags, and how often the garbage is taken out. In some estates, tenants manage their own garbage. This forces some of them to pile it at the gate or dump in the nearest river, which is very unhygienic.

Flush the toilets to see if they are working well. Lock and open all doors to ensure that the locks are in good working condition. Test all keys for all doors because you may be forced to provide them when leaving. Check all bulbs before entering to ensure they are working, and also test the drainage system.

Finally, inspect all doors and windows to ensure that none is broken. Get someone to inspect the wiring, water supply, and sewage systems to ensure they are working. If any of them requires repair, talk to the landlord or note them down in your contract.

#2: Accessibility

Most people want to live close to the road for various reasons. For instance, if you leave very early or return very late and do not drive, it is understandable to live on the highway. Houses that are close to the main road are also safe because there are no hidden corners and shadows for thugs to hide behind. During the rainy season, people who live close to the road have an easier time as they do not have to deal with mud and all.

However, such houses have a lot of noise. This is one of the reasons some people choose to stay as further away from the main road or shopping center as possible. While such houses may have accessibility issues, they are usually cheaper, quiet and peaceful. However, staying far from the main road may require you to drive. Otherwise, you may incur huge expenses on boda boda fees. Also, check the status of the road because most roads flood during the rainy season.

Apart from proper roads, ensure that the place is close to important facilities such as a hospital, shop, supermarket or shopping centre, police station, administrative office (eg chief’s camp), takeout food kiosks, grocery stores, salons, barbershops, and school in case you have school-going children.

#3: Water and electricity

Is there water in that area? Is it fresh or salty? I once rented a house at a certain place that had its own borehole water. Every two weeks, we were being treated for waterborne diseases. When I inquired, I was told the borehole water had been tested and found not safe for cooking. However, the managers of the place never told any new tenants not to use it. We had to find a supplier of freshwater for home use and only use the borehole water for laundry.

If you have clean water, ask if you pay for it independently or collectively. Some people include it in the service charge. If you have your own meter, take the current reading and confirm with the billing company whether there are arrears from previous tenants. Also, confirm if there is a water pump before moving in as you may be required to get yours – especially if you are dealing with the landlord directly.

When it comes to electricity, a friend of mine ever rented a house to host traveler only to be slapped with an electricity bill of 32,000/- after one month! You need to check if your meter has any arrears or outstanding charges. If you will be using a pre-paid or post-paid meter, call Kenya Power Company to see if the installation fee has been cleared or they deduct it slowly during top-up. If post-paid, take the current meter reading and call Kenya Power to ensure that it doesn’t have arrears from previous tenants.

#4: Environment

Apart from good access to roads and proper drainage, you need to scan the environment for any pollutants. Some areas are so polluted that staying in the house is torture. If you have driven on Outering road at night, you must have come across a pungent smell that hits you when you are busy catching some fresh air. Athi River is another area that is highly polluted. People living along River Sabaki always have to bear with the strong pungent smell that is characteristic of the highly polluted river. Such bad smells can affect the lungs and cause terrible allergies if endured for long.

Noise is another pollutant you may want to look out for, especially if you are a quiet person. Most noise comes from honking matatus in case you stay near a matatu stage, clubs in case you live near a shopping centre and religious establishments.

#5: Garbage disposal and compound maintenance

Proper garbage disposal is key to good health. You may have seen some states that have garbage piled at the main gate. Others drop it to the nearest river while other landlords leave that responsibility to the tenant. When looking for a house, you need to ask how they handle garbage.

The other thing you need to know is the person in charge of maintaining the compound. Yes, there may be flowers, grass, and a hedge but who is responsible for maintaining them?  Some landlords charge a monthly service charge for this, while others leave it to you. You need this information prior so you can plan your time and budget for it.

#6: Service charge

Most estates charge a service fee that covers various things such as security, gardening, water, garbage and sewerage management. You need to know if there is a service charge to be paid, how much it is, how it is paid – whether separately or as part of rent – and what included in the service charge. Ensure it is written down on paper.

#7: Security

Security is paramount in any area of residence. You do not want to live in a place where strangers get in and out without restrictions, doors get broken into, or walls are scaled in broad daylight. The first thing you need to check is a working gate and fence. The gate needs to be locked at all times, with each tenant receiving their own key to access the gate. If this is not the case, there should be a guard at the gate at all times. People need to leave their details at the gate, and every vehicle checked before leaving. This will ensure that nobody steals from others and leave with the spoils.

This security should be extended to the common places, including the hanging lines and car park. In communities and apartments, people always steal clothes from the hanging lines. Your own house help may be stealing and passing over the loot to an accomplice in the next apartment. Some neighbours also break in or bring relatives and friends who break into other people’s houses to steal money and other valuables. CCTV cameras can help capture the perpetrators in time.

If you have a family, leave early or return home late at night, you need to do a security mapping of the compound, estate, and environment. Are there any dark corners? Is the main road, gate area, common areas, and corridors well lit? Are there dangerous features such as open manholes, unguarded balconies, rivers, and pools? Ensure there are enough emergency exits from the house and building in case of an emergency, and if there is a swimming pool, ensure it is fenced and well guarded.

#8: Parking space

Whether you have a car now or not, you need to find out if there is enough and secure parking space for everybody. I have seen first-time car owners lose their car stereos to burglars while they slept. Reason? They had parked outside because there is no parking space inside their apartments. Others wake up to dirty windshields because someone poured dirty water to it from the window, others have stains after parking below hanging lines due to lack of space and many other issues. The worst one is waking up to find your engine, lights or tyres missing because some burglars broke in while you slept, disabled the alarm and removed the parts they wanted. There is also the issue of being called in the morning to remove your car so that another person who parked inside is leaving!

If you don’t have a car, consider the possibility of owning one later. And before you do, your friends who drive will be visiting. Where will they be parking or will you be able to deal with a broken windshield, missing side mirror, tyres or stereo?

#9: Rent payment terms

When is the rent due? Most landlords and agents require that you pay your rent on the 5th day of every month. While this is a reasonable date, employers process salaries up to 10th or even beyond. If you must be paid in order to pay rent, you may end up paying a lot of penalties. This is because most agents charge a penalty for late rent payment. However, if you know that you get paid on 10th, you can discuss the due date with your agent, caretaker or landlord. They are usually flexible as long as you pay promptly.

The second thing you need to consider is the rate at which rent is reviewed. Some landlords will wake up and ask tenants to unjustifiably pay more rent. Read the tenancy agreement carefully before entering the house. This will give you information on how often and at what rate the rent will be going up. Some landlords give you friendly terms when you are moving in, only for you to find different terms on the written agreement. Always ask to sign the agreement before moving in and remember to keep a copy for yourself.

#10: Refund of security deposit

Different properties have different terms. In Nairobi, most landlords ask for only one month’s deposit. Depending on the agreement you have with your landlord, you should be able to tell the exact date you will receive your deposit after vacating the property. Ensure this is written in the tenancy agreement before you move in. And while moving out, ensure the house is in the same condition you found it because another tenant will be moving in. All repairs, replacements and painting fee will be deducted from your security deposit.

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It is important for you to maintain your house well once you move in. Avoid destroying things inside the house, and ensure everything is in working condition always. Do an inspection yourself before moving out.

However, some landlords will claim to have used all the money in repainting the house. If your landlord has this habit, you can ask him or her how much paint will be required, ask the specific brand and quantity required and then buy it yourself. Ask how much it will cost the painter to repaint the house and update your books on how much is expected. If the landlord’s rates are unreasonably high, you can look for your own painter to do the work under supervision. There are circumstances where landlords deduct over 100,000 shillings just to paint a house once tenants vacate. Such disputes can be addressed by the established legal entities, or you can do the painting yourself.

What is your experience with Nairobi landlords, caretakers, and property managers? Share in the comments box below.

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