Renting out a room in your home or building extra rooms on your property for lodgers has been a common practice for years, especially in the high density areas. Lately it has become more prevalent in medium density areas like Mabelreign and in low-density suburbs like Greendale and Borrowdale.
Many of those who have built additional structures for lodgers have not had the building plans approved by council and some of the accommodation is deplorable and unsanitary. In some cases homeowners have simply built a row of dormitory style rooms – up to six or eight extra rooms – which share a communal toilet and shower. Often there is no cooking facility and lodgers must either cook in their rooms on a hot plate or outside over an open fire and dishes are washed in the shower or in buckets.
Joshua Dzerumbaira, a lodger in Mabelreign for about ten years, staying in a number of different rented rooms, laments, “The electricity supply often consists of a single cable strung from the main house. In some of the worst places the council water had been disconnected forcing lodgers to collect water from neighbours or communal boreholes. A lodger can expect to pay anything from $120–$150, and often the landlord puts the rent up after two or three months without doing any improvements.”
There are also cases where a homeowner lives in the lounge or dining room and rents out three bedrooms. Often the bedrooms are rented to a husband and wife and one or two children resulting in up to twelve people living in a small, three-bedroomed house, sharing a single bathroom and kitchen. This puts extra pressure on the already over-burdened services like water, ZESA and sewers or septic tanks. These cramped conditions are ripe for the spread of illnesses like cholera and TB. Jessie Majome, Harare West Member of Parliament, says “This is an indication of government’s failure to plan and provide for the low-income housing market as well as of the collapse in service delivery, all of which raise health hazards.”
Caroline Bebbington, a letting agent at Ridgeway Grant Real Estate told Harare News that it is illegal for someone renting a house to sublet rooms to other tenants. However, a homeowner can rent out rooms within their house or other accommodation on their property, provided the extra cottages or other structures have council-approved plans. Bebbington gave an example of a retired widower she knows who owns his property but has moved into the domestic quarters and rents out his former family home as his sole source of income.
In the more affluent low-density areas accommodation tends to be more comfortable. Many homes already have adjacent ‘granny flats,’ although a growing trend is to convert an existing garage, workshop or storeroom into lodging. These are more expensive than a simple outside room averaging around $500 to $800 per month.
There are a number of reasons for the rapidly expanding ‘lodgers’ market’. Zimbabwe’s decades-long economic decline has affected everyone. Many homeowners are now under- or un-employed and even those lucky enough to have work need to supplement their income. In addition, older houses in the Northern suburbs are costly to maintain and a bit of extra cash helps people to get by.
For most young Harare residents, the possibility of buying your own home is completely out of reach with banks nowadays only giving loans under very stringent conditions. Flat rentals within the CBD are very high: a one-bedroom flat can go for $600 or more, with rates and levies on top. So for many young professionals, an outside room in a medium to low-density suburb becomes an attractive option.
Majome concludes, “Because of government’s failure to cater for the low-income housing market, there are now two different societies in the suburbs – the visible one with big houses and rolling lawns and then an invisible, informal, population hidden in little shacks and cottages at the back, occupied by people who don’t want to live in the congested colonial townships but can’t afford to buy or rent houses. The suburbs offer many advantages such as better schools, better amenities, less noise, health care and security that the high density areas don’t have.”
Image: Garage and workshop converted to a room for rent.
Do you rent a cottage or room? What have your experiences been? Have your say in the comment section below.