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A TENANT'S GUIDE TO DEALING WITH UNILATERAL RENT INCREASES

Renting a home is a significant aspect of many people's lives, Statistics provide that out of 5.7 million urban residents, 3 million rent their homes[1]. If you are reading this article, chances are that you are a tenant or you know someone who is. However, issues can arise when landlords attempt to impose one-sided rent increases without considering the rights and obligations of their tenants. In this article, we will delve into unilateral rent increases, their implications and the rights tenants possess to protect themselves in such situations.


Understanding Unilateral Rent Increases

A unilateral rent increase occurs when a landlord raises the rental rate without the tenant's consent or without following the regulations set forth by the governing rental laws. Unfortunately, many individuals mistakenly accept unlawful rent increases simply because they are unaware of the legal protections in place to safeguard them from such arbitrary actions by their landlords. This can be a cause of concern for tenants, as it may disrupt their budgeting and financial stability, potentially leading to strained landlord-tenant relationship.


Tenant's Rights and Protections

Tenants are not without rights and protections when faced with a unilateral rent increase. In Harare, there is a Rent Board located at Makombe, intersection of Leopold Takawira and Herbert Chitepo. This Rent Board is dedicated to enforcing and upholding tenant rights. Tenants need not possess legal expertise or knowledge of strict procedural requirements in order to have their grievances heard, provided that they can establish that their rights have been infringed upon. Understanding and asserting these rights foster a fair resolution between landlord and tenant. Here are some key points to consider upon a unilateral rent increase:


Lease Agreement Examination

Review your lease agreement carefully. It typically outlines the specified rental amount and the duration of the agreement. If the agreement is still active, the landlord may not be able to increase the rent until the lease term expires, unless otherwise stipulated. Additionally, a landlord can only increase rent after 6 months of the lease agreement. In accordance to the Rent Regulations, landlords possess the authority to escalate rental charges by a margin of 30% without seeking formal approval from the Rent Board. However, should a tenant express disagreement with the proposed increment, the involvement of the Rent Board becomes necessary to mediate the matter.[2] The law maintains that rent regulations are aimed at preventing unscrupulous landlords from taking advantage of the shortage of premises by increasing their rent unjustifiably.[3]


Legal rent increase

It is key to note that increase can only be done upon AGREEMENT. The lease agreement should specify the times and procedures for rent reviews and increases. If it does not, the rent regulations provisions should be complied with as they provide lawful manners to do so. If a landlord wishes to increase the rent on reasonable grounds, such as upgrading the residence, and the tenant disagrees, the landlord may apply to the Rent Board for a rent increase.[4] In the event of a disagreement, the landlord may only increase the rent after obtaining a rent order from the board, which will be valid for one year.


Amicable Negotiation

If your landlord proposes a rent increase, It is advisable to engage in open and respectful communication with them about it. Express your concerns and provide relevant information about your financial situation. It may be possible to negotiate a reasonable solution without a strenuous legal battle. In some cases, landlords are willing to reconsider or adjust the proposed increase.


In conclusion, unilateral rent increases can create uncertainty and financial strain for tenants. However, knowledge of tenant rights, understanding of rental laws as well as effective communication with landlords, can help navigate these situations more effectively. Also remember to familiarise with your lease agreement. By asserting your rights and engaging in constructive dialogue, you can work towards a resolution that is fair and beneficial for both parties involved.


Written by Rutendo Sarah Gukwa

-Intern at Gambe Law Group

[1] Business times, Half of the population in urban areas are lodgers https://businesstimes.co.zw/half-of-the-population-in-urban-areas-are-lodgers/#:~:text=Half%20of%20people%20in%20Zimbabwe's,3%20million%20rent%20their%20homes. [2] Section 39(4) Rent Regulations, 2007. [3] Moffat Outfitters (Private) Limited v Yunus Hoosein and Others 1986(2) ZLR 148 (SC) [4] Section 19 of Rent Regulations

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