Until 2013, Ms Eva Nyawira and her three children were living a quiet life on a parcel of land she had bought in 2007 in Membley Estate in Ruiru, Kiambu County. Although the area was off the beaten path, when she moved there, she didn’t mind since she no longer had to pay rent.
However, with the launch of the Eastern Bypass in 2009, there was an influx of people in the area, and soon, bungalows began sprouting all around her. After a few years, the issue of service charge arose, and the peace they had enjoyed was disrupted.
“I attended some of the inceptive meetings with my neighbours, where we discussed security, and it was agreed that we needed a guard. However, I found the proposed Sh2,500 a month exorbitant, since there are over 50 homes in our court. I refused to pay and since then, I have known no peace,” she said.
Ms Nyawira is not alone. Her predicament is shared by many homeowners who are struggling with the monthly service charges set by the management committee or property managers.
According to Mr Xavier Babu, a property manager in Nairobi West, the amount of service charge is dependent on the estate or the rent payable.
“For instance, in areas such as Syokimau and Ruiru, the service charge ranges between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000, while those in areas such as Kilimani, Lavington, Brookside and Kileleshwa range between Sh 5,000 and Sh 20,000.”
At Vigilance Homes, a residential court in Kitengela, members contribute Sh1,000 per month, which goes toward paying the security guards, with other ad hoc contributions of Sh2,000 meeting road construction/ repair, planting or watering trees.
Mr Babu says that the service charge in gated communities and controlled developments meet expenses such as garbage collection, cleaning common areas, fumigation, security, radio alarm backup and maintaining e common swimming pools.
However, he revealed that in some estates, the companies providing the services are owned by the committee members, who might impose heavy charges so that they benefit.
In some estates, the residents who refuse to pay are denied services such as garbage collection, fumigation and excluded from neighbourhood activities.
And Ms Nyawira offered, “According to the welfare association, those who refuse to pay the Sh2,500 open the gate for themselves. I was okay with that, but on many occasions when I open the gate, the guards close it after I get into my car, so I have to get out and open it again. I don’t see why I should pay the fee because the main gate is over 700 metres from my house and there is no perimeter wall; it is only partly fenced using barbed wire, with some areas unfenced.”
‘‘Ironically, only those who drive are targeted. People who don’t drive walk in and out of the court without any problem,” she explained, adding that she is frequently insulted and threatened by her neighbours.
According to Mr Henry Ochieng, CEO of Kenya Alliance of Residents Association, his office received complaints about service charge daily.
“Sometimes it’s someone who doesn’t want to pay who brings up the issue, or one is reported by their neighbours. At other times it is individuals complaining about exorbitant fees. We are pushing for legislation to address such issues both at the county and national levels,” he said.
“As at now, when such cases are brought to us, we cite a ruling made under petition No. 501 of 2013. Justice David Majanja was very categorical that any beneficiary of common services provided by the residents’ association should pay the fees applicable.” He, however, advised unsatisfied individuals to move a motion of proposal during the neighbourhood meetings and raise the concerns.
Mr Apollo Mboya, a High Court advocate, says that neighbourhood needs to be organised through democratic associations and have members agree on how much to pay.
“One of the main reasons why individuals refuse to pay is lack of accountability. The management committee needs to show proof of how the collected money is spent and they should not impose illegal sanctions on members,” he says.