RECENTLY, some newspapers published letters to the editor expressing concerns about high rental charges in towns and cities.
The two letters from concerned tenants noted that some landlords and landladies hiked rentals by K350.00 and some by K500.00 monthly.
The concerned tenants observed that some landlords and landladies didn’t consider the low monthly wages and salaries some workers earned and, therefore, the high poverty levels some people live in.
They suggested that the Government should intervene to protect the tenants from such selfish and exploitative landlords.
It was also noted that the accommodation business was booming these days as owners of houses earned good money from rentals.
It was from such a background that the concerned tenants also invited Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to consider increasing the revenue base by reaching out to such landlords in townships.
It is the multi-faceted phenomenon of such concerns that this writer has been persuaded to discuss some of the causes, effects and solutions to high accommodation charges in towns and cities.
Firstly, it should be noted that the concerns raised are genuine in that if one was to hold meetings in towns and cities to find out tenants’ feelings on accommodation rentals, almost every tenant would say they are too high for each one of them to afford.
But high charges of accommodation are among many common complaints of price increases of goods and services that almost every town and city dweller complains of every year.
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that causes of high rentals do not lie in the landlord but elsewhere beyond the control of the two.
Therefore, the article proves that asking the Government to intervene is going against the policy of free market economy, and inviting ZRA to tax landlords in towns and cities is actually worsening the cost of rentals to the same concerned tenants as any cost of building or accommodation will be passed on to the same tenant.
Therefore, analytically, the concerns and suggestions on high accommodation charges seem to have been unrealistic, misplaced, misdirected and, therefore, unjustifiable.
Rental charges differ from one town or city to another, and from one compound to another. Where do these concerned tenants live? Is it in Mtendere, Chisokone, M’chini, Soweto or Misisi townships? Where are you complaining from and in which town or city?
For the sake of this article, the words landlord and landlady will mean the same.
The concerns from some tenants prove that the high cost of accommodation is a big problem in towns and cities. It is important to realise what big problems as these attract immediate and appropriate solutions.
This means that the concerned tenants will soon find fastest and most practical ways of solving such problems.
Tenants and landlords should know that some of the good qualities of maturity are to be responsible for one’s own affairs, to be self-reliant and accept things one cannot change.
And one of the best ways to address challenges one faces is firstly to understand the capacity of oneself in relation to the situation at hand.
The biggest challenge most of us Zambians have is living beyond our means. Many who complain of economic hardships are those of us who are living and want to continue living beyond our means. Live life within your means; you will have peace of mind.
Therefore, such complaints of high accommodation charges seem to be a sign of unnecessary urbanisation where wrong people are in towns and cities without practical means of meeting the cost of living in such areas.
Every year, especially in a free market economy, prices of fuel, transport, mealie meal, cooking oil, sugar, cement, etc go up.
Soon or later, electricity tariffs will increase. In short, every year, prices of most goods and services rise.
Landlords, like any other citizen, live in the same economy where such prices of goods and services increase. Landlords have family responsibilities to feed their families, seek health services, send their children to schools, etc.
Such complaints seem to come from citizens who don’t understand how a free market economy operates and how supply and demand affect pricing.
Such complaints also prove how low some wages and salaries are to meet people’s essential needs.
However, suggesting that ZRA should tax current landlords in townships is suggesting that accommodation charges should be higher than they are currently as any cost to accommodation will be passed on to tenants.
Whereas tenants are complaining of high accommodation charges, landlords are complaining of high cost of buying plots and building materials in general.
Landlords are also complaining of high cost of living. And they want to continue investing in building business while the cost of building is increasing.
And if it was possible in a free market economy for a Government to control accommodation rental charges, it would also control the price of fuel, mealie meal, cooking oil, sugar, interest rates, exchange rates, etc.
But since it is not possible, citizens and the Government in a free market economy should accept how a free market economy operates with its supply and demand market forces.
Better still, don’t tell the Government to intervene. Instead, tell suppliers of other goods and services not to increase prices.
Asking the Government to solve every problem each group of citizens encounter in their daily lives is asking for too much as the same government has many other macro-level-related issues to address such as high unemployment, attracting genuine investors, improving on national food security, reducing high interest rates and exchange rates between the Kwacha and other international currencies, how to reduce balance of payments (exports less imports), and how to increase financial reserves, etc.
Therefore, it is good that some tenants have realised how painful it is to rent accommodation. It is said that a problem identified is half way solved. Look at the bigger picture of the current high accommodation charges.
The current landlords were also tenants before. Most tenants should work hard to earn more money and build their own houses.
It is also interesting that some tenants have realised that providing accommodation to others is good business.
Therefore, instead of inviting ZRA to tax landlords, the same tenants should go flat out and build their own houses; and rent them out to others for more money in their pockets. If you invite ZRA to tax landlords when you will soon also be a landlord, ZRA tax will hurt you and your tenants in the near future. Be strategic.
If you think your landlord is unrealistically hiking rentals, leave the house and go where you think rentals are fair. You might be surprised that within a week or so, another tenant has occupied the same house you deserted.
While a tenant can argue with a landlord and say: ‘You haven’t added any value to your house, why should I pay more now?’
In reply, the landlord can argue and say: ‘The K300.00 you used to give me three months ago used to buy 4 x 50kg bags of breakfast mealie meal, pay for electricity, health services and send my children to school.
But now the same amount can only buy only 2 x 50kg bags of breakfast mealie meal with only a small change. Where will I get extra money to feed my family and pay for electricity and other expenses if I don’t increase rentals?’
So the only solution to high rentals is not that the Government should intervene or that ZRA tax landlords in townships but that each tenant has many options to take to address such a challenge.
For example, a tenant who is a worker can advise his or her trade union leaders to negotiate for realistic monthly wages and salaries.
Workers and trade union leaders can also lobby the Government to help them negotiate for better monthly wages and salaries with good conditions of service to meet essential needs.
But in case this doesn’t work out or takes too long to achieve, a worker can come up with means of earning extra income to meet other needs of life.
In short, work hard to put more money in your pocket, to pay for accommodation of your choice which is within your means.
Better still, affected tenants can look for alternative affordable accommodation in other townships.
Failure to achieve this, the best way would be to go back to the land where accommodation and food are almost free.
Solutions to most challenges most of us face are within ourselves. We have the power to address our own challenges in life.
Don’t expect a Government to solve every problem you have or you create for yourself. Avoid the dependency syndrome.
If plots and building materials were cheap, everyone was going to own a house. Be innovative in your life. Be self-reliant. Therefore, choose either to be a tenant or a landlord.