The arguments and counter-arguments against the recently-passed Landlords-Tenants Bill 2018 notwithstanding, the law is indeed a step in the right direction. It is indeed dispiriting that for decades, Uganda did not have a law regulating this vital industry. It had resulted into stunting the industry, blatant exploitation of the poor and the inevitable widening of the chasm between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ It is the government’s duty and mandate to protect the vulnerable poor from exploitation by the powerful.
Claims by landlords that the law is “skewed towards tenants” were expected, but laughable. It is akin to the airlines and commercial banks complaining that the laws that regulate them are skewed towards the customers. That is exactly what such laws are supposed to do – to protect the public interest. Universally, laws that regulate the housing industry are tough on landlords. Indeed, our new law is not as tough as those in developed jurisdictions.
In Australia, for instance, their recently-amended Residential Tenancies Act of 1997 is based on the nine ‘Occupancy Principles,’ which create enforceable legal rights for tenants. They include stringent fitness for human habitation rules, knowing the landlord, putting the tenancy agreement in writing, reasonable notice before increasing rent or terminating the agreement, and resolution of disagreements and using reasonable dispute resolution mechanisms, among others.
One of the weaknesses of the new law is that it is vague on the issue of ‘fitness for human habitation’ as at it merely makes a passing reference to the Public Health Act and Building Control Act, 2013.
Whose mandate is it to enforce Section 6 of the Act and for determining that premises are fit for human habitation and that the requisite facilities and amenities are in place? In some other jurisdictions, it is mandatory for the landlord to produce a valid certificate of fitness for habitation before signing a tenancy agreement.
I strongly think that the Act should have catered for a regulatory body to take care of such issues. Some jurisdictions, for example Australia, have catered for a Tribunal specifically mandated to handle housing-related disputes. Where does the tenant go for redress should the landlord fail to fulfil the duty, say to keep the rented premises in repair?
Another weakness in the Act is that its framers made the assumption that the issues that affect residential tenants and those that beset commercial tenants are the same. They are not and so these two categories should have been dealt with separately. What we note now is that it is mainly the landlords of commercial properties who are most uncomfortable with the Act. Yet, it is obvious that there are many people who are both tenants and landlords at the same time. For example, a businessman could be renting his business premises on Nasser Road, while at they also have rental houses.
Also, the Act is relatively weak in as much as it mainly deals with only the financial aspects of the tenant –landlord relationship. Aspects of the right to compensation arising from loss due to the landlord’s negligence are not catered for. What happens if a tenant incurs loss (say loss of life or property) because of the landlord’s negligent acts? Additionally, the law should have recognised the role of local leaders such as local councils in the arbitration process. It is also silent on the issue of brokers, who are quite a menace to both tenants and landlords too.
The banning of paying rent in foreign currency has generated the most controversy. But given that government is the biggest tenant with a rent bill that runs into billions of shillings per month, it makes lots of sense to the taxpayer to curtail the demand by landlords to have rent paid in dollars.
Ps Nyanzi,Ps Nyanzi,