With a housing waiting list of more than 500 000, Harare is one of several cities in Zimbabwe facing a crisis of accommodation.
So desperate is the situation that in some residential flats in the capital city’s sprawling township of Mbare — which were built during the colonial era for bachelors — three families share a room in some instances.
An even more dire situation is found at Chichera Plot near Marlborough, a medium-density suburb in Harare, where some people are living in what used to be horse stables.
Part of the problem has been the liquidity crunch facing the country as a result of the economic quagmire that the country has found itself in over the years.
Simply put, there is no money for banks to give out as mortgage financing, hence the housing crisis.
This has resulted in the few privileged house-owners in major cities around the country renting out some of their rooms to desperate home-seekers. Home-owners thus charge exorbitant rates as rentals taking advantage of the situation.
In Harare’s high-density suburbs it is not uncommon to find a landlord charging a tenant as much as $100 per month for just a room with requirements for payment of deposits when one accepts the terms.
Remember, because of the shortage of accommodation, this is a landlord’s market and the dictum “take it or leave it” reigns supreme. Conditions and regulations set by the Rent Board are flouted by landlords left, right and centre as they know desperate tenants will not report them to the board.
A tenant, who sometimes might be as old as 40, but is called a “boy” in the same manner Africans were addressed during the colonial era, is forced to accept a long list of unreasonable “house-keeping rules”. So a tenant has no rights to talk of.
It is with this in mind that we would like to applaud the Supreme Court for ruling on Monday that it is illegal to charge rent deposit, goodwill or any other non-refundable amounts on any rented premises.
The ruling followed a failed appeal by Harare businessman Jerome Ndubuisi Okeke, popularly known as “Chief Okeke”, who wanted the Supreme Court to set aside a January 11, 2012 High Court order compelling him to refund his tenant’s deposit.
Delivering the judgment, Judge of Appeal Justice Bharat Patel ruled: “It is illegal to charge any deposits or any other fee which is non-refundable apart from rent itself and this is inclusive of charging goodwill. Requiring tenants to pay for such payments is prohibited and criminalised by law.”
Justice Patel said such charges were in violation of Section 19 of the Commercial Premises Rent Regulations of 1993.
But it is also prudent to warn that the ruling is not a licence for tenants not to honour their side of the bargain of at least paying the rent for their lodgings.
There are some tenants who have become notorious for not paying rent for their lodgings giving their landlords a headache in the process as they try to recover their monies.