Wednesday February 19 2014

Tenancy agreement: To sign or not to sign?

A bathroom with stained tiles. Above, a sink

A bathroom with stained tiles. Above, a sink without plumbing fixtures. These are examples of problems landlords and tenants face respectively. Photo by Faiswal Kasirye. 

By Annah Nafula

Ronnie Mutebi, a landlord in one of the city suburbs, tells of a young couple that rented one of his units. It was just the two of them occupying the rented unit. From their surroundings, it was visible that they were not very clean people. However, they were bearable. The couple did not have a lot of property.

“The day they left my house, I regretted having rented it to them,” he reminisces. “The toilet was leaking; one couldn’t tell whether the bathroom walls were painted or tiled. They were so dirty and algae had formed all over. The walls of the house were all drilled. I just did not believe what I saw and the couple had already left.”

Bad landlord
It is not only landlords who face a problem with rentals but sometimes even the tenants have a problem. Macline Namayanja, 28, was looking for a house of at least Shs250,000. Then a broker approached her and told her of a house in Kyanja that would cost her Shs300,000, electricity and water bills inclusive.
“This was a good deal, after all, the bills would still bring it to that amount,” Namayanja recollects.

To her dismay, she found a notice from her landlord one evening telling her that from then, she was expected to pay for her own electricity. The landlord said he would reduce the rent by Shs10,000 to cater for the new arrangement. According to Namayanja this was unfair but she recalls that there was no binding documentation of their agreement to have the landlord paying the power bills. They did not even have receipts.

Mutebi and Namayanja’s problems are just a few of those that landlords and tenants face when they have not agreed on terms and conditions. They can do this by drawing up a tenancy agreement.

The tenancy agreement
A tenancy agreement is a document that contains terms and conditions of a tenant’s stay.
A landlord and the tenant agree upon these terms. Signatures of both parties are mandatory as it confirms that they both agree to the content of the document.
According to Jalia Basajjabalaba, a lawyer with Niwagaba and Mwebasa Advocates, a landlord and tenant can draw the agreement. However, it is safer to have a lawyer during present during the process.

What it entails
Basajjabalaba also notes that the agreement can be oral or written. With an oral agreement, she notes that the tenant should at least demand for a receipt. This can be used to justify the relationship between the landlord and tenant.

In any agreement a landlord puts across his various expectations, leaving the tenant with a choice to either agree to decline.
It is also possible for a tenant to find a liberal landlord, who can allow her to modify the agreement, putting the tenant’s interests in consideration.
For example, Rachel Namutosi found a house in Makindye where the landlord had a ready agreement. On reading through, however, Namutosi, did not agree to all the conditions. Therefore, she and her landlord, under the guidance of a lawyer, drafted a new agreement.

Germane Habineza, a real estate agent in town says, “Tenancy agreements in most cases are not taken seriously. But if not honoured, the unsatisfied party can sue.” He adds that they not only benefit property owners but also protect the interests of the tenant.
It is common that people move into houses without necessarily signing tenancy agreements. Some people do not know about them while others, especially landlords prefer to have a casual understanding with their tenants.

When it comes in handy
In the occasion that the agreement is breached on the side of the tenant, Basajjabalaba says, “the landlord makes an application to court in distress which makes an order to that effect.”
For those without tenancy agreements, Basajjalaba’s advises that you request your landlord to give you receipts of every payment you make. A receipt can be used in case an oral agreement is breached.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours on whether to have a tenancy agreement or not. It is however something to consider in order to keep the peace between you and the landlord.

Germane Habineza is a real estate agent. Though he has houses he rents out, he also helps people find houses for rent.
While going about his duties, Habineza, helped one of his clients find a house. It was a fine bungalow in Bukoto, a city suburb. The client wanted it for office space. The agreed a mount was Shs2.6m. Shs15.6m was paid for six months forward. The client then signed an agreement with the landlord and settled in.

The agreement stated a tenancy period of one year. A few days later, the landlord got a better deal. Someone was offering him, Shs3.3m. The landlord then thought of giving back the first tenant’s money so he could let the later in.

“I could not accept such a thing to happen to my client,” says Habineza. We almost sued the landlord because my client had a well written agreement permitting his stay. I had signed as a witness. So there is absolutely no way this was going to happen,” Habineza says.
In this case, because of the tenancy agreement, Habineza’s client was able to stay in the house instead of being kicked out.

Basic contents of a tenancy agreement
A tenancy agreement should contain the following basic information:
1. The full names and address of both tenant and Landlord
2. The full address of the said house
3. The Tenancy term
4. The amount of rent and months payable in advance
5. Tenant’s obligations
6. Landlord’s obligations
7. What should happen in the occasion that the agreement is breached by either parties
8. Terms of termination

The bizarre rules landlords have set for their tenants

no visitors
Nelson Muhaise tells of a landlord who did not allow him to have visitors staying over without permission. “He asked all of us to first put in writing that we were planning to have visitors sleeping over. When he told me about it before I moved in, I thought it was a joke, until my sister came to visit. The landlord was at my door the next morning. I guess the boy who used to manage the houses told him about it. He told me to make sure my sister found another place to stay or else I would pay Shs100,000 as a fine. I left a month later.”

YOU CAN’T cook that
“We were going to have a house party at a friend’s house but he told us he was not allowed to cook pork inside the house. He said it was among the rules his landlord had set up when he was going to rent. Apparently, the landlord didn’t want the smell of pork plus the fat sticking to the kitchen sink. This landlord was not even a Muslim so we didn’t get why such a rule was in place,” Kate says about a friend who was renting a house in Ntinda.

sound off
“The craziest landlady I ever had was the one who used to switch off our power whenever we played the music loud. I’m not talking about kigunda loud here. I mean turning up the volume when you are doing the laundry during the day just so you can hear it from the balcony. Our neighbours never complained since they also enjoyed loud music now and again, especially when they had house parties. But whenever our landlady was around, she would switch off our power since she had the key to the power box,” Evelyn says of her bizaare experience with a landlady.

shower time
In late January, a story was trending on social media about a landlord’s strange rules for his tenants. The most outstanding was the rule about tenants’ time of showering. It read, “Showers cannot last longer than 15 minutes in the mornings and evenings between 6am and 10am and between 7pm and 11pm.”

power to the landlord
How do you minimise on the amount of money you spend on the electricity bills when you are the landlord of five housing units? For one landlord in Kansanga, his solution was to switch off the main power every morning and turn it on every evening. “We thought it was load shedding till we found out that the neighbours’ power was on while ours was off. We called someone from Umeme and when they checked it out, the main switch was off. A former tenant is the one who told us about what the landlord was doing. I don’t know if what he was doing was legal but I also didn’t have the strength to find out, I just moved out,” one of the former tenants says.