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Regulators must protect borrowers

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Losing a house over failure to settle a loan or other financial obligations is both devastating and a personal tragedy.

Access to a house is a dream that all people want to fulfil in their lifetime because shelter is a basic human need. It is not a want.

So when properties are taken away from their owners and disposed through auctions, one cannot stop but wonder about the fate of the affected families involved especially women and children.

Homelessness is the most degrading experience a human being can live with. It leaves the affected people in such a hopeless and helpless situation, resulting in relocation to rural areas or in some cases living on the streets.

Desperation is what has driven most homeowners to secure loans against their homes.

This is when an individual uses his/her home as a guarantee to pay back.

This means that if you don’t keep up with payments, the bank or building society you borrowed the money from can repossess that home.

That is the tragedy that has befallen the 500 people who have apparently lost their homes to an alleged Harare “loan shark” who says homeowners entered into agreements of sale after they had given up their properties for cash.

There are many reasons why homeowners take this route in order to secure loans. What would you do if you were faced with a fees bill for three children at university or a medical emergency?

Personal loans and mortgaging finance were readily available from banks for those that earned a decent salary, hence the reason why the upper middle class earners of the 80s and 90s were able to buy property and settle other financial matters without much trouble.

However, with the meltdown of the economy, it became apparent that building societies and banks were no longer able to offer these facilities as inflation started rocketing at alarming levels.

But following dollarisation of the economy last year, most Zimbabweans found themselves in yet another dilemma: all goods and services were quoted in US dollars, a situation that still hurts most consumers today.

The temptation to want to borrow is even greater now because of the myriad of problems facing ordinary folk. Many institutions have sprung up — capitalising on the appetite to borrow – to offer loans in opaque and in some instances criminal circumstances.

Their biggest drawcard is the ability to supply cash instantly, which many banks cannot readily do.

The catch, however, is in the small print on contracts signed by borrowers who immediately become victims of the agreements.

Most borrowers do not read contracts carefully or they are not educated enough to understand the maze of legalese on contract documents.

This is their downfall.

The lender in the event of the unsophisticated borrower defaulting always pulls out a contract to justify grabbing property.

Borrowers require protection.

They are not getting it at the moment because the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, the government and the central bank have slept on the job while people lose their houses and other critical assets like vehicles and livestock.

This is the time to act for the common good.

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