KAMPALA, UGANDA: Kampala City landlords through their umbrella body Landlord and Developers Association have defended their decision to charge rent in US dollars.
This was on Thursday, November 25, when the members of the association appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Physical Infrastructure to explain why tenants of every level are being charged in foreign currency against the local-based currency.
The landlords led by their chairperson, tycoon Godfrey Kirumira appealed to the Committee to provide for rent payment in both shillings and US dollars in the Landlord and Tenant Bill, 2021.
MPs, however, rejected the proposal saying charging rent in US dollars disadvantages the common man, cognisant that the dollar rate is ever-changing.
“Why should a poor woman renting at Luwum Street be subjected to paying rent in dollars when all she earns is in shillings?” asked Sarah Opendi (NRM, Tororo district) adding that, “I see this as exploitation, I propose that you landlords should get whatever rent you will have agreed upon but in shillings”.
Bugabula County South MP, Henry Kibalya said the tenants he has interacted with are unhappy with paying rent in US dollars due to its instability. He proposed that the new law should cap rent in shillings but make a provision for tenants who would prefer to still remit rent in US dollars.
“To use foreign currency in paying rent, I say no. Let us put in the law our own currency. We insist rent will be in shillings in this bill but if there is any other agreement between the landlord and tenant, that should be okay,” said Kibalya.
The landlords were, however, displeased with the MPs’ position and property mogul Sudhir Ruparelia expressing his discontent requested Parliament to amend the constitution to provide for the shillings as the only means of trade.
“If you want to change our rights as Ugandans why don’t you amend the constitution? Why can’t you for instance ask the Uganda Revenue Authority why they charge taxes in US dollars?” Ruparelia asked.
Soroti East Division MP, Moses Attan to calm down the landlords said Parliament is responding to the plight of tenants who he said have been forced out of business by the ever-changing dollar rate.
The two parties also did not come to a consensus on the obligation of paying utility bills, with MPs accusing landlords of cheating tenants through unfair electricity and water fees.
MPs said tenants who have appeared before the committee have always complained about business facilities such as arcades with one electricity metre; a situation landlords exploit to charge electricity fees of their choice.
“This is one area where you fix a fee and want everyone to pay it irrespective of whether I have used electricity or not. Let each shop have its metre but for you to fix a fee for all tenants, for me it is cheating,” said Opendi.
Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia who is one of the biggest landlords in the city responded saying for commercial buildings, Umeme currently provides one metre per building.
The committee chairperson, David Lukyamuzi Karubanga, proposed the creation of a tribunal that would settle some of the landlord-tenant-related disputes that may not require the courts of law.