Going by the way they carry out their daily management duties, the caretakers of residential buildings have become among the most powerful people in the housing sector. Most of them live in the same compound as the tenants and make their word law that can be overturned only by the landlord.
In fact, some tenants have never even seen their landlords — the caretakers handle everything from broken sewers and leaking roofs to good neighbourliness.
“I don’t know my landlord and I’ve never seen him since I moved into this apartment. All matters related to the house are reported to the caretaker,” said Susan Njeri, a tenant and businesswoman in Donholm.
They are easy to identify, with their bunch of keys and air of authority that sometimes goes beyond good manners.
Kennedy Maina, another resident of Donholm, usually entrusts his car to the caretaker, who cleans it for a small fee every morning. Mr Maina used to have the car washed elsewhere but this was not well received by the caretaker.
“When I moved here I had unknowingly signed a contract with the caretaker to wash my car. So he became hostile when he found out I had it washed somewhere else,” noted Maina.
“We avoided one another because the smallest issue could cause a major problem.”
They not only manage the apartments and keep the the grounds clean, they also pump water, interview and vet new tenants, collect garbage fees and receive rent receipts from tenants. Most landlords give their caretakers space in the apartment blocks to live in, but most decline and rent the house out to get the money.
A few caretakers say tough economic conditions force them to rent out the offered accommodation and move to cheaper housing.
Most have the complete trust of the landlords, who give them the leeway to add “something small” to the tenants’ rent bill and exercise absolute powers.
Some caretakers have the power to evict tenants who default on rent as Harold Otumba of Donholm found out.
“I delayed my rent for three months due to financial constraints but the man didn’t want to understand. He was very rude and even disconnected my electricity. I was in darkness for a whole week,” said Mr Otumba, a hotel chef.
The caretaker did not stop there. He went ahead to throw Otumba’s property out and seize his electronics, and by evening he had brought in another tenant.
Monika Ngure, who lives in Roysambu, fell prey to a lovelorn caretaker.
She got scolded over small matters like playing music “too loud” and her electricity would get disconnected when she refused to lower the volume.
When she rejected his advances, she was frustrated and eventually forced out.