By Nyenti Browndine Manyi
Regina Fiang, a 35-year-old widow in Buea, has not found a new house for herself and her four children since she packed out of her initial house, after her landlady increased the monthly rents from FCFA 20,000 to 35,000.
She says the landlady increased the rents after carrying out light renovations. She was renting the plank house (commonly called kalabot) consisting of two bedrooms, pallor and a toilet at FCFA 20,000 per month. But the price almost doubled after the house owner made a few renovations on it.
Unable to pay the rents, Regina was forced to pack out and she now perches with a relative. Her story mirrors the challenges residents of Buea, headquarters of Cameroon’s Southwest Region, undergo finding accommodation due to high rents and arbitrary rent increases by house owners.
“I was asked by my landlady to pack out because she wanted to carry out renovation and she also informed me on the increase in rent and said if I could meet up with new rent I could stay, even if the renovations are going on,” said Regina Fiang.
Finding a new house was another difficult task for Regina after she packed out of the old one. Houses are not only scarce to find; they are quite expensive and landlords oblige tenants to pay the full rents for at least one year.
Realising the challenges people go through finding houses, several youths have taken up jobs as house agents. They scout for houses and hook people up with them at a fee of approximately FCFA 30,000. Regina sought the help of one of these house agents.
Agents too, she added, are very expensive. In Buea, when an agent secures a house for a client, the client pays between 50 to 71 percent of one month’s rent, plus a visitation fee of FCFA 5,000 or 10,000.
“I was advised by my friend to get an agent so that he could help me search for a house,” Regina said, adding that these house agents were too expensive so she decided to move into her sister’s house for the time being.
“For some months now, I have been looking for a studio for FCFA 30,000 but can’t seem to find one.”
Just like Regina, 24-year-old Glory Ashu complains about the sudden hike in house rents in Buea. Just few years back, she paid FCFA 15,000 monthly for a room that harbours a kitchen and a toilet. But today, she pays FCFA 35,000 for the same room and this increase is weighing down her provision store business.
She says her landlord justified the house rent increase by alluding to the increase in the price of building materials and the influx of more people into Buea. But amid the house rent increases, Glory says her earnings have remained the same and, consequently, her living standards have fallen.
“My living standard has dropped due to the increase in rents. I cut down cost in products and services so that I could save up for my rent,” she said.
House Owner Blames Increased Demand
However, some landlords told The Post that, owing to the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic, which sparked a surge in the prices of goods and services in the Central African nation, they are compelled to increased rents to meet up with their needs.
The population of Buea has also increased drastically, due to an influx of internally displaced persons from crisis-hit areas of the Northwest and Southwest Regions. The population increase, says Susan Amboh, 53, a landlady in Buea, has put pressure on the available houses and has caused them to increase rents.
Susan said she increases her rents depending on the occupation of her tenants and based on the demand for the house. “I increase rents for my house because the demand for houses is at its peak, reason being that the armed conflict has caused people to move from their areas of residence, like Muea, Ekona, Muyuka and other areas, to seek safety in Buea,” she said.
She added that she usually informs her tenants before increasing rents, and those who cannot cope with the change are expected to pack out.
In Cameroon, tenancy agreements are regulated by Law No 80/21 of July 1980, to amend certain provisions of Ordinance No 47/1 of July 1947 to establish rules governing land tenure.
Although the law tries to regulate the relationship between tenants and landlords, clashes between them remain unending, says Barrister Rose Mbeng, a Buea-based lawyer who has five years’ experience in tenancy issues.
Most of the cases she has handled centre around issues of unaware increase in house rents by landlords; damage caused by tenants when leaving the house; harassment of tenants by house owners to pay rents upfront.
“Tenancy agreement is between both parties. Since it is an agreement, the land tenure ordinance stands to protect the house owners and the tenants from conflict,” says Barrister Mbeng.
She thinks the government needs to do more to protect tenants from arbitrary decisions taken by some landlords, especially unjustified rent increases.