The lockdown measures enforced by governments globally to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus has once again cast the spotlight on the often complicated relationship between tenants and landlords.
When President Museveni announced a 21-day lockdown last month, he urged landlords to be patient with their tenants and allow them a grace-period since business is now on a total standstill and no money is being made.
Last evening, while announcing a controversial 14-days extension, President Museveni urged banks and landlords to stop acting like Shylock in the book “Merchant of Venice”, by demanding payments from tenants and clients well-knowing that the economy has been on Ground Zero for the two months.
President Museveni’s proclamations on the critical issue of rent payments has,inevitably,opened a Pandora’s Box as opportunistic, albeit desperate tenants, see a window of exploiting it to dodge payments of arrears.
It is a public secret that several landlords in Kampala have obligations with banks and other creditors to clear and are therefore pushed against the wall, effectively not allowing them the latitude to offer rent waivers to their tenants.
A top landlord interviewed for this article advised that with the economy in tailspin due to the lockdown measures, landlords and tenants need to sit on a roundtable and agree on a win-win solution.
“Landlords and tenants enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Landlords cannot survive without tenants and tenants also can’t survive without landlords. I think the President’s guidelines were misinterepreted. He did not guide that tenants should not pay rent,” said the Landlord, who declined to be named.
The confusion over the President’s guidelines regarding rent payment mean that it is necessary for the government to clear the air over the matter to avoid pitting landlords against tenants over rental arrears.
Landlords are also worried that if rent arrears are accumulated by tenants, payment may be more problematic as the economy will take long to recover from the post-Covid downturn, further complicating an already volatile situation.
As a more definitive solution, economic experts have opined that the government can devise a stimulus package to allow landlords offset their credit obligations with banks and other utility providers, a measure that would allow them the luxury to offer rent waivers to tenants.
Government can also issue tax waivers on essential utilities like water and electricity, further giving landlords more room to relax rent demands on tenants.