In May this year, tenants at Pioneer Mall went on strike as a result of increasing rent and charges for other services like water and electricity. The tenants claimed the increment was unfair, considering the dollar rate and poor services provided by the mall owners.
The media often runs such and many more stories of traders protesting hiking of rent by landlords, and people often wonder if there is a law to this effect. The answer is yes, and that law is called the Rent Restriction Act 1949 Cap: 231. However, according to Gerald Abila, the Managing Director of barefootlaw; a fee online legal service provider, this law is not actively in place to govern the relationship between tenants and landlords.
Section 2 (1) of this Acts provides that rent should not exceed a certain amount. It states that “no owner or lessee of a dwelling house or premises shall let or sublet that dwelling house or premises at a rent which exceeds the standard rent”.
“Ideally, there is supposed to be a committee set up to determine rent for a particular area. But because it is nonexistent in Uganda, that is why you can find an area like Ntinda having one tenant pay Shs. 500,000 and the other $1000,” Abila said. He added that for tenants to be protected, Parliament needs to come up with a new and valid law to this effect.
How can tenants protect themselves?
According to Abila, tenants should not enter premises without signing a tenancy agreement. It is advisable that one gets a lawyer to look through the agreement so that in case a disagreement arose, court can always refer to the tenancy contract.
However, if one cannot afford a lawyer’s services, they can write their own tenancy agreement. The agreement must include the name of both tenant and landlord, the village, parish, sub-county and district where they are both located.
The agreement should also include the rental agreement, i.e. amount to be paid, to whom, date of payment, duration of rent, expiry date and what the rent is being paid for (farming, office or work space or place of abode).
It is also important the agreement indicates how the rent will be paid i.e. if it to be paid in installments, or full, it should also indicate the date and amount for each installment, which should also be signed against by both the tenant and landlord/lady.
“In the absence of an agreement or an agreement without a rent restriction clause, if your Landlord/Lady increases the price inequitably, you either comply or look for another place to rent,” Abila advised.
The other way tenants can be cautious is by ensuring that the person they are entering the agreement with is the one authorized to carry out transactions for the premises. “This will help avoid situations of paying rent to impostors. Tenants ought to be really careful about who they pay their rent to,” Abila said.
In case of a dispute arising from rent, is advisable that it is settled amicably before considering other options. According to the law, Distress for Rent (Bailiffs) Act 1933 Cap: 76, a landlord has a lot more power over the tenant and usually the remedy for a tenant is to look for other premises.
“It is also important that before entering any premises, a tenant should visit the area and speak to other residents and find out about the area’s security. Also ask the landlord about the security measures put in place. Do not forget to also include that in the tenancy agreement,” Abila said.
In case you have a dispute with a tenant, it is important that it is solved lawfully. Section 2 of the Distress for Rent (Bailiffs) Act 1933 Cap: 76, provides that “no person, other than a landlord in person, his or her attorney or the legal owner of a reversion, shall act as bailiff to levy any distress for rent unless he or she shall be authorized to act as bailiff by a certificate in writing under the hand of a certifying officer, and such certificate may be general or apply to a particular distress or distresses”.
This implies that it is illegal to break a tenants padlock and confiscate or sell his belongings to recover rent in case of failure to pay arrears, without a written order from a certifying officer who is the Chief Magistrate or Grade 1 Magistrate.