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Nairobi Property owners in Embakasi and Kasarani face penalties, demolitions in City Hall audit

A government bulldozer brings down a house in Nairobi’s Kahawa West estate to pave the way for a road bypass during a past demolition exercise. Property owners in the estate and other areas in Kasarani and Embakasi risk losing their property for lack of titles.

A government bulldozer brings down a house in Nairobi’s Kahawa West estate to pave the way for a road bypass during a past demolition exercise. Property owners in the estate and other areas in Kasarani and Embakasi risk losing their property for lack of titles.

The Nairobi county government has announced plans to conduct property audit in the city’s two sprawling residential areas, putting thousands of buildings at the risk of demolition.

Property owners in Embakasi and Kasarani also face heavy penalties for non-payment of transfer, land rate and change of user fees as city officials move to eliminate irregular developments in the highly populated areas.

“We intend to restore order in urban development, safeguard public safety and ensure hospitability of structures,” Lillian Ndegwa, the interim county secretary said in a notice.

More than 80 per cent of property owners in the two areas covering thousands of acres have no titles to support their claims but have over the years subdivided the land and sold it in breach of planning and development laws.

Lack of proper documentation also means the city authorities cannot determine proper property ownership for purposes of collecting land rates worth millions of shillings every month.

Individuals who purchased land in the expansive area through the 11 building societies and have yet to receive their title deeds top the list of those likely to be affected by the order.

City Hall stands to earn millions of shillings from the ownership regularisation drive that starts today with consultative meetings with the building societies.

The property ownership audit is specifically targeting neighbourhoods that have seen an explosion of poorly planned high-rise residential houses built in total disregard of planning and public safety regulations.

The audit, which is expected to end by mid-2014, could leave thousands of property with title deeds but put many more, including those illegally built in areas such as power wayleaves, at the risk of demolition.

Governor Evans Kidero is expected to chair Wednesday’s meeting in Kasarani where land-buying societies such as Chieko Plot Owners Association, Murigo Housing Development and Kamuthi Housing Co-operative were invited.

A similar meeting, targeting members of Njiru Githunguri Farmers, Ndungu Farmers and the controversial Embakasi Ranching Company, is planned for Embakasi on October 29.

While the county government lacks the authority to issue title deeds, it is within its mandate to ensure proper planning and, in this case, ‘regularisation of developments.’

“Even where City Hall facilitates has set the plot boundaries, it is up to Ministry of Lands and the National Land Commission to issue title deeds,” said Mwenda Makathimo, a land economist.

Regularisation of ownership means fresh application and paying for change in usage of a piece of land, extension of listed use as well as sub-division of property.

Besides, property owners must surrender to the city authorities detailed information of, among others, parking slots, architect’s and engineer’s structural reports and the height of a building in respect to the size of land on which it sits.

The latest property ownership review comes weeks after the county government increased fees, taxes and service charges by up to 100 per cent.

The County Finance Act doubled change of land use fees to Sh360,000 while it will now cost property owners Sh180,000 for extension of use licence. The cost of subdividing land also doubled.

People who own property through large schemes will be required to pay Sh6,000 for subdividing 1-100 plots, Sh4,000 for 101-300 subplots and Sh2,000 for over 301 units.

Property owners seeking approval with no penalties must pay all the building approval fees as well as all subdivision charges.

“It is a very small price to pay. If I have a Sh10 million bungalow, then I should be willing to pay about Sh150,000 for all the approvals,” said Rose Muema, the head of Nairobi’s planning department.

“We are only regularising the processes to enable those occupying the property to own it,” she said.

Most of these properties have over the years been irregularly subdivided, have no title deeds and are the subject of bitter court battles, setting the county government up for a difficult job.

Embakasi Ranching Company has, for instance, been dogged by controversy surrounding 16,000 quarter-acre plots that were irregularly dished out to individuals without any chance of getting title deeds.

Another 14,000-acre land in the same area originally belonging to the government was subdivided into thousands of pieces and sold to members. The plots, valued at billions of shillings, have over the years been surveyed and sold to members of a land buying firm that former area MP Muhuri Muchiri founded in 1975.

Though members claim to have bought the land from the Settlement Fund Trustee, the mother title is still held by the government and there is no evidence of payments made to the fund. The land has been subdivided many times — the latest round in 2005 — but the majority of plot owners remain without title deeds to prove ownership.

A similar controversy is ongoing in Kahawa West estate where Kamuthi Housing Co-operative is claiming ownership of some 415 acres of land while City Hall insists it bought 176.5 acres of the land.

Bernard Maina, who chairs the society, says 452 of its 6,000 members are currently occupying land in Kahawa West, complete with title deeds.

“The controversial sale of part of our land to City Hall was done irregularly by previous officials, leaving members without title deeds,” said Mr Maina.

The Kasarani and Embakasi property belts are a maze of hundreds of blocks of flats built right next to each other. Other buildings do not have internal lifts yet they are more than the five floors limit.

This apparently ungoverned burst of construction has attracted property developers to such areas, putting a strain on resources and infrastructure.

Ben Woodham, the managing director of the property managemet firm, Knight Frank, says the chaos are linked to the fact that developers can “do more with less land,” with disastrous outcomes.

“Having the county government move in to restore some sense of order and control is very important,” said Mr Woodham.

“In the short term, it will cause the prices of such parcels of land to fall as they will not be as attractive as when developers had a free hand.”

-Business Daily

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