Source: Tenants conning landlords | The Financial Gazette April 27, 2017
By Mairos Mubvumbi
THAT our economy has got cash challenges is not a secret. Long and winding queues in banking halls, widespread engagement of debt collectors and frequent use of court messengers to attach properties are but a few examples pointing to serious liquidity constraints.
Although there are genuine cases of workers who are failing to get their salaries from their employers or banks on time to pay for their expenses, including rentals, there are some unscrupulous tenants who are taking advantage of the cash crisis to avoid paying rent and stay in rented properties for free and then disappear and move into another property available for rent once the tables have been turned against them.
Many of these shameless tenants have perfected the art of hopping from one property to another to avoid paying rent.
Landlords are in a fix because of such unethical behaviour. If they just angrily and hurriedly chase away such tenants without notifying the Rent Board, they get into serious trouble.
Conversely, if they go the legal route, the procedures and formalities involved take a long time before judgment is passed and by that time the costs involved may actually be higher than the amount of debt they seek to recover.
My recent visit to the Rent Board offices in Harare made me realise how widespread this system of hopping from house to house being practiced by many tenants has become.
The reception area was filled with many people. Among them were the aged and the young. Most of the elderly were the landlords, while the young were the tenants.
The majority of those I talked to was there to get their tenants evicted. Almost all the complainants were landlords.
Because of my inquisitive mind, I began to ask various people why they were there.
The first person told me that he was seeking an eviction order against his tenant who had defaulted for 10 months.
I asked him why he had allowed him to stay that long without paying rent. He said that in this cash-strapped economy you would not want to be cruel, but understanding, hoping that tenants would pay as per their promises.
He added: “But promises that are never fulfilled put you in a difficult situation because you have your own debts to pay off. Eventually, you have to ask them to leave, but you will have accumulated a huge debt to council. And the most painful thing is that you are most unlikely to recover the unpaid rentals. In addition to having wasted time coming here, there are financial costs you incur like transport costs, fees for court proceedings and food while seeking an audience with the officers. Moreover, what you get from the Rent Board is only an eviction order. If you want to recover your unpaid rentals, you will have to go to the civil court which has its own proceedings to follow and fees to be paid. It’s tiresome and time-consuming, I tell you.”
Before I had finished talking to him, he was called to hear the outcome of his case.
I turned to another person nearby. She was an old lady. She was furious and threatening her tenant who had just left under the cover of darkness, leaving behind a huge debt of unpaid rentals.
She looked at me and groaned: “These lodgers always say that they cannot pay rent because of cash shortages. Do they not know that the house they are staying in was built using money? Moreover, council bills need to be paid; interest is accumulating every month. I am now old and I totally depend on rent money for a living. My life is doomed.”
These are just a few stories of victims of tenants who hop from house to house, with some of them even leaving their belongings behind.
These tenants are cunning. They are conversant with the law and they manipulate it in their favour. When the pressure for payment of rent becomes unbearable, they exit the property in the dead of the night, leaving behind their belongings.
They deceive their landlords into thinking that they would be coming back yet they would have gone for good to stay somewhere else. They pay rent for the first month at their new lodgings and thereafter they give a series of excuses for failure to pay.
Some of them blame their employers for not paying their salaries on time yet they are not even employed anywhere. Others cite the long bank queues and withdrawal limits as their reasons for not paying their rentals and yet, in reality, they may not even have the bank accounts to start with.
Out of all the people I talked to at the Rent Board only one case had the tenant as the complainant.
But still, it was a case of a tenant defrauding the landlord. The tenant was pressured to leave by the landlord after failing to pay rent for several months. The cunning tenant rushed to the Rent Board and complained that he was being forced to leave without notice.
He wanted to be given the standard notice of three months, yet he was reluctant to pay rent for those months he would be on notice. The tenant in question was present and was boastfully saying: “I teach landlords some lessons so that they know how to co-exist with others. Things are hard for everyone, so they should appreciate that. Handibve zvokumhanya. (I will not leave in haste.)”
Despite frantic efforts by officials at the Rent Board to convince tenants to vacate when they are no longer wanted by landlords, the tenants remain adamant.
They argue that moving requires money to transport their goods and payment of rent at the new residence and they do not have that kind of money.
Their argument betrays their deception: They do not want to move out because it costs them money. They want to remain where they are because it costs them nothing.
The way most of the tenants, who were present boasted about their invincibility confirmed two things: The property market today is a renter’s market, thus tenants have the greater bargaining power; and that most tenants are taking advantage of the economic crisis not to pay their rentals and therefore have been hopping from one landlord to another.