The Uganda Landlord and Tenant Row!
A mirror of the landlord-tenant relationships in Uganda
Landlord and tenant relationships are essential parts of our daily operations whether in housing our business activities or providing a roof over our heads that we call home. In East Africa just like the rest of the world, a good majority of the urban population and part of the rural population do not own their homes or their business premises which means they have to rent or lease premises to meet both their housing and business needs. In Uganda, this reality is evident as the Uganda National Household Survey 2016/2017 revealed that an estimated 71% of households in the capital city of Kampala rent their dwellings while over one fifth of the households nationally rent. With a population of 46 million reported in 2020 in Uganda by The Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations’ Population Division (DESA), the population that will be renting in the urban areas is set to rise drastically over the next five years as Kampala’s population is projected to rise from 3.3 million in 2020 to 5.5 million by 2030. This paints a vivid picture of the expected multiplication of landlord and tenant relationships in Uganda and the need to preserve the relationships, especially under the law.
Cordial relations between a tenant and a landlord enhances economic productivity in leased business premises and peaceful enjoyment of a rented house. However, landlords and tenants are often embroiled in conflicts about their rights and obligations to each other which on many occasions results in regrettable injustices such as tenant evictions, property damage, withholding of rent, landlord’s refusal to refund security deposits, lock-up of premises or forceful seizure of a tenant’s trading stock or household goods. Uganda is not new to the landlord and tenant feuds as it marks one of the serious legal problems in the country. In April 2020, Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni, during his 9th presidential address on Covid-19, said, “Landlords should not evict people because they have not paid rent. Police should not allow this because they will be exacerbating the spread.” How did this statement affect the landlord and tenant relations in Uganda during the lock-down period and after the lock-down was lifted?
Housing legal problems which include tenancy problems constituted 11% of the most serious legal problems in Uganda according to the 2020 Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey by HiiL. Further, the 2020 HiiL Deep Dive Into Land Justice in Uganda report revealed that 27% of the disputes over lease of land remain unresolved thus clearly illustrating the discord between landlords and tenants. Who then is making false promises and not fulfilling their end of the agreement between the tenant and the landlord? The Covid 19 pandemic has certainly exacerbated the already existing strain in most tenant and landlord relationships since the economic impact has taken a hit on most of the tenants’ pockets thus hampering their ability to fulfill their rent obligations to their landlords. Does the law cover such eventualities? Do the tenants get away with rent default by invoking the force majeure clause or claiming frustration by the pandemic prevents them from performing their obligation under the lease agreement? Is it illegal for the landlord to evict their tenant for defaulting on rent? What happens to the landlord’s right to receive rent and how do they repay the debt used to purchase the leased commercial or residential property?
What rules does the Uganda tenancy referee provide for landlords and tenants?
Uganda has enacted laws that govern the relationship between landlords and tenants key among them being the Landlords and Tenants Act of 2016, Distress for Rent (Bailiffs) Act and the Rent Restriction Act which are set to be repealed by the latest law, the Landlords and Tenants Bill of 2018 passed by parliament and awaiting presidential assent. The new Landlords and Tenants Bill of 2018 just like the previous laws, seeks to protect the rights of tenants and landlords in the tenancy relationship and provides remedies for violation of those rights. Which are these rights and duties of tenants and landlords one may wonder? Some of the key rights of tenants captured under the Landlords and Tenants Act are:
- Right to quiet enjoyment of the premises
- Right to have safe premises that are free from health hazards
- Right to have repair of damage in the premises resulting from normal wear and tear of the building
- Right to have the taxes and rates of the premises paid by the landlord
- Right to notice of termination of lease and entry of landlord into the premises
- Right to have a written lease agreement for the premises if rent is above Ug Sh. 500,000
Some of the major Landlord rights provided under the Landlords and Tenants Act are:
- Right to receive security deposit and rent on the agreed date
- Right to have the premises kept in good repair by the tenant
- Right to have the premises not used for unlawful purposes by the tenant
- Right to have the tenant not causing nuisance or interference in the premises
- Right to be notified by the tenant before he/she makes any alterations to the premises
- Right to receive notice of termination by the tenant
Albeit the enactment of progressive legislation such as the Landlords and Tenants Bill 2018, there are identifiable gaps and imbalances between the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords in the bill. For instance, there is a glaring gap in the law on how crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic should be handled in regards to the landlord tenant relationship which has seen many tenants default on their their obligations to pay rent and consequently causing great suffering to landlords who are paying loans to recoup their investment in the commercial and residential premises. The pandemic outbreak should be a wake up call to the government and legislators to provision for such eventualities in law rather than give directives similar to the one issued by Uganda’s president asking landlords not to collect rent during the lockdown period yet the landlords are not shielded from their loan repayment obligations as it causes an imbalance in the rights envisaged by the law. Additionally, the Landlord and Tenants Bill of 2018 has sparked negative reactions from landlords who have felt shortchanged by provisions such as the repealing of the Distress for Rent (Bailiffs) Act which was previously used to cushion landlords from tenants who defaulted on their rent by allowing them to cease and sell the tenant’s household items and auctioning them. Landlords will be required under the new law to get an eviction order from a court to remove a tenant who has refused to vacate the premises after expiry of the vacation notice which is a blow to landlords as it does not offer them an opportunity to recover the legal costs, time and defaulted rent where a tenant has no ability to pay the rent in arrears. Similarly, landlords will feel the pinch of the provision that requires them to only rent in Uganda Shillings which takes away their freedom of contracting that previously allowed payment in other currencies such as the US dollar. Is it a fair game when the legal referee favours tenants over landlords?
Uganda justice heroes resolving land and tenancy justice issues.
The access to justice landscape in Uganda as regards protecting land rights and tenancy rights is sprouting with local heroes who have devoted themselves to offer a helping hand to those who are legally and financially disadvantaged. The Uganda Land Alliance is one such hero as it works to have the land rights of the poor and vulnerable protected by enhancing access to justice to the people whose rights are violated and they also lobby and advocate for the policies and laws protecting the poor in land ownership and tenancy. The Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) which was established in 1995, is a membership consortium of national, regional and international civil society organizations and individuals, lobbying and advocating for fair land laws and policies that address the land rights of the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups and individuals in Uganda.
Barefoot law in Uganda is another unsung hero in Uganda that aggressively provides free legal information and assistance in Uganda including land and tenancy legal issues using a combination of mobile tech-based platforms and on-the-ground legal clinics for remote areas. BarefootLaw is a nonprofit organization that, through the innovative use of digital technology, empowers people with free legal information so that they can use it to develop legal solutions for their justice needs. They provide access to justice and the Law for thousands of individuals and small businesses who would otherwise remain underserved and have already served over 800,000 Ugandans and are targeting to make justice accessible to 50 million people across Africa by 2030.
The list of justice heroes in Uganda would not be complete without Legal Hub Uganda. They are on the forefront of providing access to justice in land, tenancy and other legal issues through innovative creation of educational videos and podcasts to create awareness of legal rights, use of mobile tech platforms to provide legal information and assistance through legal representation by their team of advocates and they advocate for policy changes to ensure equal access to justice. Legal Hub Uganda was conceptualized to offer innovative and pragmatic solutions to the millions of justice seekers in Uganda and they exist to ensure indiscriminate access to justice, not only as a right, but also as a vehicle for defending other rights.
In summary, Uganda is need of more heroes in the form of innovators dedicated to resolving legal issues arising from landlord and tenant relationships. Also, the assenting of the Landlord’s and Tenant’s Bill of 2018 by Uganda’s president will be a step in the right direction but more needs to be done to take into account crises such as the pandemic and landlord's rights.
Article by Morgan Gikonyo