City officials explain directive on businesses in residential houses

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A residential home turned into office facility in Kigali. File.

The City of Kigali, yesterday, hosted a news conference to shed light on the rationale behind a directive requiring businesses and nonprofit entities working from residential buildings to relocate.

Parfait Busabizwa, the City vice mayor in charge of economic development, said the move aims at promoting efficient, secure and hygienic working environment.

He added that it is also in line with implementing the City Master Plan to ensure that every building serves the purpose for which it was built.

“We realised that some buildings which were built for a family of six members accommodate businesses. There is not enough space, no security, no hygiene and this means they can hardly offer quality services,” Busabizwa explained.

“If living rooms are turned into offices, it is not easy to operate. We have new buildings which have been erected with all necessary requirements, and we encourage people to vacate and move to those buildings meant for commercial purposes,” he added.

The City Master Plan, which has been in place for the last few years, has clear zoning guidelines that show what areas are for commercial, residential or dual purposes, and what kinds of businesses can operate from specific areas.

The implementation of the master plan was delayed after it emerged that there were not sufficient commercial properties. However, now that more commercial properties have sprung up across Kigali, City officials want the guidelines respected.

While the directive has generated a lot of debate, with some arguing that rental costs of commercial buildings are exorbitant, City officials say there are cheaper options available and it is imperative that properties are used for the purpose for which they were constructed.

The move is good news for investors in commercial properties who have complained of low levels of occupancy and for people looking for more affordable homes to live in, as the prices have gone up due to demand from businesses and nonprofit organisations.

The City officials cited investments such as Kigali Heights, CHIC Complex, M. Peace Plaza, towers built by Rwanda Social Security (RSSB), among others, that they say are not fully occupied.

Busabizwa stressed that the City has not asked people to rent particular buildings, adding that it is up to those operating in residential buildings to negotiate with owners and relocate to wherever they want.

“We took the decision to help businesses operate in better places. What we want is to see them operating in commercial buildings. We don’t want them to vacate from where they pay $1000 and pay $3000, we have talked with owners and we hope the rental charges will be lowered as some have started doing so,” he added.

The City officials said the rental fee should be at least $15 per square metre.

Business owners who have paid for more than three months will be allowed to operate until the expiry of their dues.

But Rusabizwa cautioned owners not to extend contracts as they could be fined in case such cases are found out .

There are around 1000 businesses and non-governmental organisations operating from residential premises, according to City authorities.

Private sector concurs

Gerald Nkusi Mukubu, the Private Sector Federation chief advocacy officer, said while the sector advocates for both small and big businesses, there is no way businesses should be operating in residential buildings.

“We advocate for both small and big businesses, particularly, small businesses are not the ones operating in small buildings, we are ready to do advocacy for whoever is affected but we hope this directive will not affect any,” he said.

“There are enough buildings across the city and businesses operating in residential buildings should relocate and occupy such buildings.”

Eduard Munyamariza, the chairperson of Rwanda Civil Society Platform, said many institutions, especially those that do not generate income, will be affected by the move.

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