Many Kenyans view residents’ associations as relevant only to the affluent.

But, while acknowledging that most active residents’ associations are located in rich and upper middle-class neighbourhoods, Mr Henry Ochieng’, the CEO of Kenya Alliance of Residents Associations (KARA), says the trend is changing as more communities from poor and middle-class neighbourhoods come together to form associations.

“Whether you live in a rented bedsitter in Ruiru or have your own house in Lavington, there are common problems in every neighbourhood that are best addressed communally,” says the CEO of the umbrella body that unites more than 750 residents’

associations across the country.

A resident's association, Mr Ochieng’ explains, is an organisation composed of voluntary members living within the same neighbourhood. Such organisations often strive to improve the security, social and communal facilities in the locality.

One benefit of joining a residents’ association is that it enables tenants to exert pressure on a landlord or the local government to upgrade existing facilities or provide new ones. “Issues like water shortage, garbage disposal and security might require not just

the residents’ input, but might need to rope in the authorities as well. A strong tenants’ body is able them to negotiate with landlords and the powers that be to get better deals,” Mr Ochieng’ told DN2.

LITIGATION

“We have seen landlords and the local authorities slacking off when it comes to maintaining comfortable living standards. Some unions even have lawyers on their boards and occasionally opt for litigation when the rights of their members have been

infringed,” adds the Kara CEO. Through such associations, residents have succeeded in organising opposition against new developments that go against planning plans for the area.

Raising tenancy issues such as a bug infestation or insecurity collectively helps the authorities to deal with one active group rather than a disparate group of residents with the same problems.

Mr Ochieng’ says that many citizens are ignorant of their rights as tenants, making them vulnerable to exploitation by landlords and even local authorities. However, tenant associations educate their members on matters such as good governance,

accountability and other ethical and legal issues.

POLITICAL NEUTRALITY

Even though all the associations under the KARA are required to be politically neutral, Mr Ochieng’ explains, they often use political avenues to push for their demands. “Associations have been able to support their members to get into office in both the

county and national assemblies,” he notes. Such members in turn advocate for matters such as setting up playgrounds and early childhood schools in their locales. The residents’ associations are also in a position to lobby for favourable legislation.

In the Nairobi County Assembly for instance, KARA is pushing for legislation that will guide how residents submit subscription fees to their associations.

The bill is currently due for a third reading in the assembly, and Kara intends to mobilise other residents’ associations to introduce similar bills in other counties.

Residents’ associations can also serve as reconciliatory bodies. Instead of taking disputes between tenants to court, tribunals set up within the associations can try to resolve minor internal disagreements before cases go to court.

But the greatest benefit of forming a residents’ association, Mr Ochieng’ says, is the increased sense of belonging within a community. “We have seen associations grow to become close-knit families that support each other both financially and

psychologically,” he says.

“In order to raise a pro-active citizenry, we usually encourage the formation of new resident organisations, especially in densely populated areas. The slum areas, for instance, have informal associations that are not legally recognized.

To form an association, neighbours have to draw up a constitution to govern their operations. They also have to elect a chairperson, secretary and a treasurer and then fill and file the forms provided by the registrar of societies under the Societies Act.

Later, they can register their association with Kara.

“When an association registers with us, we provide a link between it and the government. We also provide a platform to network with other associations and legal avenues to address weighty issues such as land-grabbing,” he explains.