Christine Dusabe, a businesswoman in Nyabugogo market, has had run-ins with her landlord ever since she started renting the commercial house 11 months ago. Though she pays rent as per the tenancy agreement, the landlord had always been telling Dusabe’s employees of how he would throw her out of the premises
Indeed, one day she came to work as usual only to find her store locked. She says when she called the landlord, he threatened her, and ordered her to leave the premises right away.
“I stood my ground because this was clearly a violation of my rights, especially since I didn’t owe him any rent arrears or had vandalised the house. The tenancy contract was clear, but it is obvious that he harboured a grudge against me which I didn’t know,” she says.
Dusabe was, however, thrown out and was only allowed to remove her merchandise under the eye of ‘goons’ hired by the landlord.
“What made me sad is that he never gave me notice so I could prepare and find another place to go,” she says. She, however, did not take the matter to the authorities or the traders’ association to seek redress
John Nsengiyaremye, from Rusororo, Gasabo District, was evicted by his landlord after he started staying with his sister. Nsengiyaremye says the landlord claimed that the tenancy agreement did not indicate that he would stay with another person.
“I had stayed in the two-roomed house for three months when my sister joined me. That seems to have annoyed my landlord and he started complaining about water and other small things.
“He also started mistreating my visitors and, eventually, he evicted me at the end of the month (August),” he says.
These two cases show how some landlords have taken advantage of the tenants’ ignorance of the law to violet their rights. The problem has been aggravated by lack of enough housing in Kigali, forcing tenants to suffer quietly as their rights are infringed by property owners who use their power to illegally evict people or force them to relocate without giving them enough notice.
Since very few tenants know their rights, the vice has gone on for long unchecked, with some landlords and landladies evicting tenants even when the agreed tenancy period has not yet expired. So, is there any recourse for redress in such circumstances? Who does one run to in case they are evicted illegally?
Livingstone Mwesigye, a lawyer with Kigali Allied Advocates, told Business Times that a landlord can only evict a tenant after giving them a 15-day notice as per the law.
“Before any landlord evicts a tenant, there is the process that must be followed despite the circumstances, including default on payment of rent,” he explains.
A landlord cannot cancel a lease contract before it elapses, even when they want to use the rented house as their personal home, they have to follow the law, experts say.
“The tenancy agreement can only be terminated after the landlord has notified the tenant as prescribed by the law. The notice is also only effective if it is served the tenant,” he says.
He adds that, in case the lease is for an indefinite period, but the rent fees payable periodically, say monthly, quarterly, or yearly, a tenant can opt out of such a deal through a notice by the property owner.
He, however, says many landlords and tenants presently enter into verbal contracts that are hard to prove in case the matter goes to the courts of law. When conflicts arise in these situations, the tenant is more likely to lose the case due to lack of evidence. This is why tenants must insist on written tenancy agreements to safeguard unfair treatment in the future, he advises.
Zziwa Herbert, an advocate at Premier Law Chamber in Kigali, says the tenancy contract should clearly indicate the terms and duties of each party, which must be respected throughout the contract period.
He says in case it is breached, the aggrieved party can use the terms and conditions stipulated in the contract to seek redress.
“For evictions, a tenant must be notified in time… A landlord cannot wake up one day and evict a tenant without due notice because they don’t like them.”
What Police says
According to Celestin Twahirwa, the ougoing Rwanda National Police spokesperson, conflicts between landlords and tenants are not in the jurisdiction of the Force “because they are governed by private contracts”. “However, if evictions are not handled properly or when one is thrown out at night, we have to get involved to avoid violence and other attendant risks,” he told Business Times in an interview recently.
“For instance, there was a case in Gikondo, when a tenant refused to leave after he was evicted at night. This led to hot exchanges between the two parties and we were called in to intervene,” he adds.
Propery owners speak out
Evariste Nsengimana, a property owner in Niboye sector, Kicukiro, says tenants are to blame in most landlord/tenant conflicts, claiming many do not pay rental money in time. “That’s the reason why landlords evict them, sometimes at night. Remember, this is also a business where we expect to be paid timely by those who use our services,” he says. Nsengimana says some tenants spend months without meeting their obligations. In such cases, the landlord has no option but to evict the defaulters, he adds.
Liberata Mugwaneza, a landlady at Peage in Nyarugenge District, Kigali, advocates a win-win approach, adding that clear communication on either side is important. Mugwaneza says it is good for the parties to tenancy deal to negotiate, noting the approach helps avoid any conflict and loss or destruction of property that could arise from forced evections. “The contracts between me and my tenants is private, which calls for an amicable way of handling conflicts that could arise once in a while.
She says whenever a tenant does not pay rent on time, they sit and agree on when they will pay the money. “I can take the decision to evict the tenant only when we have failed reach a win-win solution for either party,” she said.