Windhoek has emerged as one of the most expensive cities to reside in, according to a recent international study.
This comes amid concerns of collusion in the local real estate sector, which has seen rentals in neighborhoods being pegged at certain levels, notwithstanding factors of supply and demand, impacting negatively on the cost to the tenant.
A study by Numbeo, an international online research portal, has confirmed earlier concerns by locals that their current rentals are too exorbitant and are not in line with the city’s population and their incomes.
It has emerged the price of rent for accommodation in Windhoek is higher than in Johannesburg, South Africa, Gaborone in Botswana and Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.
Windhoek’s rental prices also surpass metropolitan cities, such as Cape Town, which have a far higher population and income that the former.
Renting a one-bedroom apartment in Cape Town’s central business district (CBD) costs up to N$6 210 per month while a three-bedroom apartment in the same area costs up to N$13 246 per month.
In Harare, a one-bedroom flat outside the city centre, according to Numbeo online, can be rented for N$4 477 per month, which is double the price one pays for the unit of the same size and in the same area, in Gaborone where it costs about N$2 396 per month.
The price per square meter for an apartment in Windhoek’s CBD ranges between N$3 000 and N$7 000 while one outside CBD prices are pegged from N$3 000.
Luanda, Angola and Maputo, Mozambique, top the list with the highest cost in rental prices probably due to the usage of the US dollar currency in those countries.
A quick survey by The Villager this week has thus established on average, ‘Windhoekers’ pay N$5 500 for a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre and close to N$3 500 for the same sized unit outside it.
The Villager, through a random survey, has further established on average, Windhoek residents fork out between N$8 500 to N$20 000 for a three-bedroom apartment in the city centre while the same size unit outside the CBD will cost them between N$8 500 and N$15 000.
Efforts by The Villager to get a comment from the Namibia Estate Agents Boards (NEAB) have been unsuccessful following questions sent to it that went unanswered.
NEAB was established in pursuant to the provisions of the Estates Agents Act No. 112 of 1976, for the purposes of regulating and controlling the activities of estate agents in the public interest; a position many residents have since questioned.
The board is tasked with protecting consumers in estate agency transactions while having regard to the interest of the industry, maintaining and promoting the standard of conduct of the industry and regulating the activities of the estate agents in general.
According to a local real estate agent, Van Eck, rent is determined by those who own the property. “Everyone who owns flats charge as they please, depending on their considerations. I cannot tell you how they decide, unfortunately”.
According to the Namibian rental guide, the relationship between a landlord/lady and tenant was more or less regulated by the rents ordinance No. 13/1977, which provided inter alia for the establishment of rent boards.
This ordinance regulated the relationship between landlord and tenant and the boards were empowered to investigate any complaint, considering possible applications for the increase or decrease of rent by any lessor or lessee.
This applied to all lease agreements, whether to business premises or to dwellings.
The absence of a functional rent board, The Villager has established, has since worsened the plight of tenants. After 1991, all rent boards ceased to function, resulting in the Rent Ordinance losing its power. Although it still exits, it is only applicable to business premises.
Now instead of the Rent Ordinance, common law, which allows the full freedom to contract is the basis for landlord/lady-tenant relations.
Local labour researcher and economist, Hebert Jauch, says the absence of a rent board in Namibia to advocate for the interest of tenants has assisted in high rent prices, especially in Windhoek.
Jauch explains Namibia’s previous Rent Board was dissolved at independence, which left landlords to determine what they would charge.
“It is precisely because of the absence of a Rent Board that rent prices in Windhoek are so high. It is left to individuals to make the decisions, which benefit a small group of multiple home owners,” Jauch says.
He adds, “Those who are currently renting are actually paying off mortgages for other people. There needs to be a regulatory body, because as it is, even employed professionals cannot afford proper housing. House owners determine how prices go up and try to get as much out of it as they can”.
As such, Jauch recommends that the Mass Housing project developers look into using alternative cheaper building materials, which would affect costs but not the quality of housing.
Bank of Namibia (BoN) has it the importance of housing in Namibia, as is the case elsewhere in the world, relates to the multiple roles property ownership plays in the economy and society. Namibia Competition Commission said it’s alarmed by high rentals charged in the capital but had not received any formal complaint for it to institute a full market inquiry, which will reveal contributing factors.
“The commission acknowledges the high prices of rent but cannot intervene because there is a body meant to regulate the estate agencies.
The Commission has no formal basis to make a formal assessment of the fairness of rental prices as no form of investigations or market inquiry has been made as indicated. However, the Commission, like most in the public is indeed alarmed by the high prices evident in the overall housing market," spokesperson, Dina Gowases said.
Rent in the city has become more expensive, if not close to unaffordable for young professionals who have recently graduated, students, low income earners and non-home owners.
To an individual, according to the central bank, housing refers not only to the fulfillment of a basic need for shelter but also constitutes a significant part of wealth of a household or individual.
This said, it now appears those few individuals who have successfully managed to acquire properties – despite the country’s overwhelming housing backlog which now stands at over 100 000 units – are now milking the rest of the country dry.
It seemingly does not rain but pours for those who cannot afford to own property, particularly in Windhoek but resort to renting, as it has emerged housing rental in the city keeps escalating.
Efforts to also get a comment from the Ministry of Regional and Local Government and Housing on how far it has gone in not only alleviating the country’s housing demands - Mass Housing project aside - and re-introducing an active rent board, have proven futile as questions sent to it went unanswered.