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Renting in Zimbabwe: Capital improvements to property.
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Renting in Zimbabwe: Capital improvements to property.


In our last instalment, we looked at the fact that a good part of Zimbabwe’s urban populace does not own the houses they live in. They instead live as tenants. It’s a fact that a lot of real estate platforms tend to ignore as they choose to instead focus on those looking to buy or sell homes. As promised in this series we will examine some of the burning issues that affect relationships between landlords (property owners) and those who rent from them i.e. tenants  (often called lodgers).

 An issue that often comes up when one is renting or renting out a property is that of improvements, alterations and maintenance of the premises. Who is responsible for making sure that the premises are kept in pristine or good condition? Is it the landlord or the tenant? This question has been at the heart of many disputes.

 Before we answer this question the first thing you need to understand is to distinguish between three types of expenditure that might be incurred in such circumstances:

  1. Money spent towards improving the property i.e. expenditure that will end up increasing the worth or appeal of the property in question is known as capital expenditure. Take for example money spent on repainting the property so that it will look more appealing. Money spent on landscaping would also fall under this classification, and so would money spent installing new tiles in the house. Again when money is spent drilling a new borehole or extending the house all these types of expenditures are considered to be capital expenditures.
  2. We also have money spent routinely as a part of day to day living when you are a tenant. This includes money spent on replacing consumables like light bulbs, electricity and water bills. We call this type of expenditure revenue expenditure.
  3. Finally, we have monies that are spent on repairs. Technically they are considered revenue expenditure under finance rules but as we will explain below there is an important distinction in law.

Now that you know the types of expenses involved in an arrangement between a landlord and their tenant it’s time to explain who is responsible for what in terms of the law. As an aside, it is important to note that one thing that makes the law between renters and landlords complex is that there are many types of laws in effect. You have laws that are made by the government through parliament in terms of Acts. One such act is the Urban Councils Act for example and this law gives Urban town councils the right to make laws that are known as bylaws which also govern how tenants and landlords interact. Then there are also laws resulting from court judgements passed whenever there is a dispute and tenants and landlords take each other to court. There are numerous such court judgements and some of them can be viewed here.

 Anyway here are generally accepted rules when it comes to who is responsible for making certain payments:

  • Landlords are responsible for making capital expenditure payments on their property. Unless there is a prior mutual agreement between the landlord and the tenant, the landlord cannot coerce a tenant into making a capital expenditure kind of payment. You cannot have a landlord demanding that a tenant ought to pay for an extension, laying a new tile floor, landscaping the property etc. Where the tenant makes such an expenditure it is the duty of the landlord to compensate the tenant. 
  • Revenue expenditure is the duty of the tenant unless again there is a prior mutual agreement between the landlord and the tenant laying out who is responsible for what expense. You cannot seriously expect your landlord to pay for the electricity you yourself used. However, as I said it is common for landlords and tenants to agree on specifics in such cases the specific agreement supersedes the generally accepted norms. For example, in Harare’s Western suburbs most rentals include rates and water so tenants don’t pay separately for water as that is covered in the rental amount. Normally it would be the responsibility of the tenant to pay for the water they used.
  • Now as already intimated above, there are other forms of expenditure that are technically revenue expenditure but are neither the duty of the landlord nor tenant but fall in-between. Take for example a window with window panes. If the tenant or one of their loved ones were to break one of the panes, the tenant would be responsible for making a replacement. If however there was a storm and the windows broke on their own it would be the responsibility of the landlord. Generally, the tenant has a duty to make sure that the property remains in the same condition they found it whilst taking into account normal and natural wear and tear. It is the duty of the landlord where an “act of God” causes damage. For example, wind blows off part of the roof, a water tank inexplicably falls etc.

I hope you find this information beneficial. See you in the next instalment.


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