Deposits & Landlords’ Talk

So, let’s have a landlords’ talk. I know many of us aspire to be and are working toward becoming landlords or landladies in future. For most of you, the main aspiration is to have passive income and eat gwa-kamore (guacamole) on some tenant’s malnutritioned wallet. For some of you, it is because Gathambo, your high school commerce teacher, demonstrated how rental income beatifies (not beautifies) your balance sheet – although this was before the 10% tax on rental income was introduced. Well, I have reasons around income and one about people psychology although that is not the focus of this article.
Since my times in Mathare Area 4, I have always wondered whether my landlady thought of me as she did her little children. I always wondered why she had the audacity to send Joeli the caretaker-cum-pastor-cum-your-plumber-cum-electrician-cum-marriage-counselor-cum-mabo-yote in the middle of the night with a 3-word message, “Wapi deposit slip?” (where is the deposit slip_ So, I want to be a landlord to have that bird’s eye view on the lives of tenants. Perhaps I will begin to understand why landlords see tenants as hopeless, homeless beggars and not as customers.
The second reason is, of course, the money. However, it is not just about having passive income. My case is on the deposit. I want to understand why almost all landlords almost never refund deposits and why those that refund deposits almost always treat it like a charitable, out-of-this-world act of mercy extended to the prospective ex-tenant. You see, you can categorize landlords based on their deposit-refunding behavioral tendencies. I have attempted to come up with three categories of landlords who refuse to refund deposits. They include Lord monster, Lord Viper and Lord Swallow.
Lord Monster is the type of landlord who makes it clear the moment you deposit that deposit that you and that deposit are Omutatah and Ushuru. This one begins by telling you in some bad Swahili, “nyuba ni yako sasa, fanya file unataka nayo sasa” (the house is now yours, do as you please with it now). Lord Monster might even go the extra step of promising you that he is sure you will definitely spoil something in the course of your stay. It hurts Lord Monster to see you park properly under the first floor. He keeps showing up to complain that the children are about to break the guard rails with their push-n-pull tricycles. He is especially concerned that the rate at which “mnajaza septic” (fill up the septic tank) is inamshoma (causes him losses), alarming and that something needs to be done – trust me Lord Monster will do something… With your deposit when you decide to vacate.

Lord Monster will complain that the water pump and the security lights are too expensive to maintain and itabidi msaidiane bill. He has a short coil and is Lord Loudmouth whenever a tenant makes a mistake as human as delaying rent by half a day because mobile money was down. Before Kenyattax started taxing rent, Lord Monster insisted that tenants pay via M-pesa na waweke ya kutoa ama atakukatia maji” (include withdrawal transaction fees or he will disconnect your water). When you have done your repairs and painted at your own cost before vacating, Lord Monster comes to inspect the house and this is where the drama begins. He questions the quality of paint used and calls it ya gari ama blackboard, arguing that he has to repaint the whole damn house. He says that the kitchen tap you bought last week to replace the rotten one he had installed 6 years ago does not swing as it used to and will need replacing. There will be a spot on the ceiling where your pressure cooker once spat rose coco juice – this he will claim necessitates replacing an entire ceiling compartment. There is a glass pane with a crack and this will cost you KES. 500 na Lord Monster atasimamia labor (cater for labor costs). On and on and on and on goes Lord Monster until your deposit of KES. 25,000 is three sevente fife shillings ede fifte fife cents (KES. 375.55).
Lord viper lives by the Gospel. He is the type that the son of mwanaume (man) referred to when he advised his disciples to be as sly as serpents. In the 4 years you have been his tenant, you have only seen him twice although he lives a compound away. However, he has eyes all over all tenants. Her children are always showing up unannounced. They suggest funny games like hide-and-seek inside your house with your children so that they can hide in your master anf other bedrooms. Although you don’t approve of this unbecoming behavior, you have a sense of fear combined with caution because they are your landlord’s in a way and you don’t want to offend your landlord really. These children are  Lord Serpent’s CCTV with Fiber Connect. When you see Lord Serpent, it is because Kenya Power disconnected it from the pole after Mama Otieno told Laburu wa Kenya Power that she castigates men like him for thinking they can take advantage of single mothers in the name of free tokens. The only problem Laburu wa Kenya Power has with that truth by Mama Otieno was the word castigate – he heard castrate – and decided to disconnect power before Mama Otieno disconnected his. Anyhow, back to Lord Serpent. When you decide to leave, Lord Serpent falls unrecoverably ill and squeaks like a mongoose on heat whenever you approach his house after the notice. His mother-in-law who died when the Kipchoges were moving out always dies every other time a vacation notice is about to be executed and he has by then, according to him, spent all the money on hospital and funeral bills. He promises to make sure you get the deposit at the end of next month. And next month, the election is just around the corner na pesa imeishia (got finished) kwa campaigns.

If you threaten to report him to the police, Lord Serpent now begins to hiss like a real one. He dares you. He insults you asking you how much you think he makes from that house alone. He intimidates you with how the house you have been calling home for the last four years was built using Mûngiki labor na bado wanamjengea nyingine (and they are still building him another one next month). You relent and your wife tells you about Sunday’s sermon, which was about how your mega pastor had cried to God after a landlord declined to refund his deposit and instead started sending goons to his house who eventually violated his wife. She concludes, “honey, you are a hardworking man and you will make so so much more… He has transferred his blessings to you now… Mwachie Mungu (leave him to God)”. Since you don’t want the topic of why you were dozing off in church last Sunday to spin off this Lord.Serpent’s issue, you curl tail between your wobbly legs and since God is too high for you to reach him, you leave Lord Serpent to the ancestors.
Lord Swallow is just the master of MIA. He has no face. You have never seen him, but you hear from him via phone. He does not have a caretaker and has managed to ‘seduce’ one of your kiherehere neighbors (every rental has this one except in own compound rentals) to play Lord Swallow’s cousin-in-law and by extension rental manager. Lord Swallow only goes by one name although you have seen all his three names on that all-too-familiar Equity rent deposit slip. If a staircase bulb blows up, it stays dark for about three moons before the cousin-in-law finally replaces it with one from her/his house. It is said that one of your single neighbors does not pay rent because Lord Swallow said that she should not. Recently, she miraculously took the last parking spot for her new Mazda Demio. You wonder how she fuels the damn thing to go to class and feed on boerewors every other day after gyming and saunaring while you and your one-child family barely afford the Sunday-only pampers for your 1.5-year-old teething mammal. When you ask him to refund your deposit, Swallow will not send you the balance. Instead, he sends you an expenditure that he supposedly incurred “to restore the house into habitable condition”, as though you left it in some porcupine-inhabitable mess. The breakdown, which shows how the cost of repairs surpasses your 40k deposit, includes services you have never thought exist and looks like this:

Kitchen tap- 6,500, Guest toilet flash component – 780, Lawn mowing and fence trimming – 1,500, cleaning the house – 2,000, water bill – 145, power bill – 1,088.67, Painting – 10,000, peach gloss paint – 5,000, white gloss – 3,500, green gloss paint – 4,800, paint brush – 79, 1 pickup of sand for cabro paving – 1,500, Master bed 1 pickup of red soil for the lawn – 1,200, etc etc etc.

Besides passive income and self-actualization, I want to be a landlord just to understand whether landlords are born or made into these categories. If you are a landlord and have read this, please drop a comment and help us understand why or how this happens. If you are a tenant, tell us about your Landlord/lady experiences and categorize yours.