After years of basking in the glory of a spillover property boom, landlords in Kiambu County are beginning to count losses as tenants move out due to high rents.
Buyers are also shunning the area as property prices hit the roof. With houses going for as high as Sh20 million, Kiambu said to be turning into a “rich-man-only” area, where no low-income earner has a chance to be a property owner.
Mungai Muhoho has been in the real estate industry for more than ten years and has rental flats in Kiambu town and Kirigiti on the outskirts of Kiambu town.
Mungai says that when the construction of Thika Superhighway started in 2009, most Nairobi commuters who lived on Thika Road scrambled for houses in Kiambu. With increasing demand, property owners increased rents.
Tenants in Githurai, Kahawa Sukari, Ruiru and other areas on Thika Road were fleeing morning and evening traffic jams and dust caused by the earthmovers constructing the superhighway.
“There was an influx of tenants from Thika Road. When the construction began, they came here in large numbers because there was no traffic jam and the demand for rental houses shot up,” he says.
This continued even after the completion of the highway. According to Mungai, the high rental levels, especially by new investors, have continued, forcing low-income earners to move to other places.
“I built a new house recently at Kirigiti and I set a high rate and there were no tenants moving in despite furnishing it in a modern way. I had to reduce the rent,” he says. John Mwaniki, a director at Jekmas Services, a real estate and property management company with interests in Kiambu and Nairobi, concurs that high rents are driving tenants out of Kiambu.
He gave the example of Kiambu town and Ruaka where rental charges had doubled and, in some case, trippled.
“Three years ago, a two-bedroom house in Ruaka was going for Sh7,000 per month. That has since increased to Sh16,000 and above, depending on the nature of the house and the location. Tenants have been compelled to look for cheaper houses elsewhere,” he says.
New houses are still coming up. But he says landlords will have to bring down rent or stay with their flats empty.
In Kiambu town and its environs, it is near impossible to get a decent one-bedroom house for less than Sh10,000. Many flats are going for Sh15,000 and above.
Not long ago, houses were fewer and were mainly single or double rooms. A single room used to go for between Sh1,200 and Sh2,000 per month, and double rooms went for between Sh3,000 and Sh4,000. A self-contained house went for Sh5,000 and it was not easy to get an empty house.
Today, a single room goes for Sh4,000, while a double room goes for at least Sh6,000.
It has become difficult for someone earning Sh15,000 and below a month to live in a decent house. Even in a small shopping centre like Kirigiti, you cannot get a one-bedroom flat for less than Sh13, 000.
The situation is the same in Ruiru, Juja and Thika where developers are invading prime agricultural land to build homes for sale or rental.
John says lack of a body to control rents is to blame, noting that landlords set rents as they wish. Tenants are left at the mercy of the house owners,” he says.
Daniel Mwangi, a tenant at Kiringiri on the outskirts of Kiambu town, says rent has been going up steadily, with landlords charging new tenants higher rent when another tenant vacates — even without making any renovations.
Josephine Nyambura, a tenant, says landlords have taken advantage of the high demand, saying two years ago, the house she is lives in was Sh6,000 per month, but she is now paying Sh10,000, exclusive of water and electricity bills.
Kiambu has seen an upsurge in gated community developments such as Fourways Junction, EdenVille, Tatu City, Migaa, Jacaranda, Runda Paradise and Five Star.
James Kamau has been a tenant in Kiambu for more than seven years and he says he has been moving from one flat to another due to “unreasonable rent increment”.
He is now considering moving to other areas where he can pay a reasonable rent. “My landlord hiked rent for my one-bedroom house from Sh9,000 to Sh10,500.
In 2008, we used to pay Sh6,500 per month for the same house. Since I cannot afford it, I will have to find a low-cost flat anywhere around Nairobi,” says Mwaura.