Greed and neglect create Harare’s hell-holes

Welcome to Harare’s hell-holes – the dilapidated, infested and squalid flats that house hundreds of hapless residents. And these are residents who can only make muffled complaints against landlords whose only interest seems to be money.

Leaking. A flat along fourth street in Harare.
Leaking. A flat along fourth street in Harare.

In what was once dubbed the sunshine city, flats in town have lost their glamour due to negligence of their owners and tenants. The tenants, charged exorbitant rents, are constantly damaging the flats as they move in and out of the homes.

Others attribute the dereliction to the harsh economic environment of 2008. The introduction of the multi-currency has brought no reprieve for the residents and no improvement for the homes that have progressively deteriorated over the last 15 to 20 years.

Some have tried to get around the high cost of rents by converting the city flats into brothels.

“We rent the flat and share it among four girls because we cannot afford to pay the stipulated rent single-handedly,” says a 23-year-old woman from Masvingo.

Her colleague chips in: “It’s not like we go out on the streets to look for men. It is the other way round and, in a way, this is our brothel – a private one, because the owners don’t know that we’re in this business. All he cares about is his $600 at the end of the month.”

Interviews with many tenants soon establish that most owners of these ‘cash cows’ are only visible towards the end of the month.

Says one tenant at a flat along Central Avenue in Harare: “Renovations? What are you talking about? You talk of that and the next thing there is a notice of a rent increase just to force you out.”

“The standards do not match the amount of rent we are charged, but because we are in desperate need of accommodation, we take whatever comes our way,” says Delight Makumbirofa, who lives in a flat along Josiah Chinamano Avenue.

She adds that she has had to take her two children, aged three and five, to her mother in Chinhoyi, because she could not get a cheaper, decent flat.

Says Makumbirofa: “When I moved in three months ago, my landlord hinted that there would be water disruptions. The sad reality is that water was disconnected by the council, yet we pay our monthly rates to them.”

Another tenant, living in a flat along Nelson Mandela Avenue, says that besides the high rents charged by the landlords, tenants have to pay caretaker rates, although the supposed caretakers hardly clean the premises.

“At this flat, we pay $70 a month towards caretaker services. The charges for this range between $50 to $100, and there are other areas where they pay more,” she says. “They say that money goes towards the caretakers’ salaries and related expenses, but as you can see, there is a lot of rubbish and tall grass at this flat. We are even scared of snake bites,” she says.

Enquiries about the monthly rents for flats in and around the capital reveal that tenants are forking out between $300 and $600 a month, as well as water, electricity and caretakers’ charges.

They are required to pay a water levy to the city council and buy their own electricity.

Says Florence Mahachi: “The rents are so unfair because sometimes you pay $350 for a tiny one-bedroomed flat.”

Empty, A flat along Josiah Chinamano in Harare.
Empty, A flat along Josiah Chinamano in Harare.

Tendai Zindove relates his bad experience at one flat, which was later boarded up because it was too dilapidated to be fit for anyone to live in.

“The flat was beyond repair because water from the bathroom above my flat leaked into my house. It was like raw sewage flowing into my home,” he says.

Itai Rusike is the director of Community Working Group on Health, a network of community organisations whose aim is to enhance community participation in health issues in Zimbabwe.

“The responsibility rests on the tenants because they are the ones that pay rent. Harare City Council should assist residents through enforcing the Public Health Act and ensure that the flats adhere to these regulations,” says Rusike.

He says the squalid living conditions are a potential hazard for the health of citizens, especially children.

“Diseases such as cholera and typhoid emanate from such living conditions and if flats do not match the stipulated regulations, they should be closed until the local authorities have certified that it is all right for people to stay there,” he adds.

Sheila Matanga, who lives at Cranford Court along Central Avenue, says that because some landlords are in the habit of accommodating prostitutes, the flats are run-down more quickly, as the prostitutes fight with their clients.

“Activities at the flat next door were a disgrace because the owner wanted a lot of money. The prostitutes paid per head. They would fight with their clients and that is why the place is so dilapidated,” she says, pointing to the shattered windows and damaged walls.

Says another resident from Harare: “The love ofmoney has made landlords neglect renovating their flats. They are collecting a lot of money, but because they do not care about the welfare of their tenants, the majority of them neglect their part of the bargain.

“It’s high-time for tenants to bring their landlords to task and demand that they repair and renovate their run-down premises before they take in tenants,” she says.

Post published in: News

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