By Tom Balemesa
On Sunday August 10, 2014, the SundayVision published an article ‘what is required of a landlord before evicting a tenant? This was good information but some facts were not put right.
The writer wrongly gives an impression that there was an amendment to the Land Act (Cap 227) which is not true and a bit misleading. The last amendment to the Act was in 2010. That said, there are some substantive legal issues which the writer seems to have mixed up and risk causing confusion.
The landlord-tenant relationship as enacted under the Land Act, Cap 227 has become controversial around three issues: the definition of bonafide occupant, definition of occupancy in terms of size of land utilized by occupants, the rights conferred on the tenants and the rent payable.
In my opinion it is important to separate bona fide and lawful occupants from other forms of tenants. The protection from eviction, i.e. the condition that a person cannot be evicted from land unless he/she has failed to pay rent is only available to lawful and bona fide occupants and not any other form of tenants. Going by the definition of lawful occupant in the land Act, a person needs to have come to occupy the land under the following circumstances;
(a) a person occupying land by virtue of the repealed Busuulu and Envujjo Law of 1928; Tooro Landlord and Tenant Law of 1937; Ankole Landlord and Tenant Law of 1937;
(b) a person who entered the land with the consent of the registered owner, and includes a purchaser; or
(c) a person who had occupied land as a customary tenant but whose tenancy was not disclosed or compensated for by the registered owner at the time of acquiring the leasehold certificate of title.
A bona fide occupant on the other hand is a person who before the coming into force of the Constitution
(a) had occupied and utilised or developed any land unchallenged by the registered owner or agent of the registered owner for twelve years or more; or
(b) had been settled on land by the Government or an agent of the Government, which may include a local authority.
Going by the above generally the tenants who are protected from eviction unless they have failed to pay rent are persons who occupied land by 1983 (12 years before 1995 when the constitution came into force).
This provision is often confused by person who may have recently settled on land and are under a false belief that they cannot be evicted. This confusion has partly contributed to the conflict between landlords and tenants we are seeing in the country today.
As the writer correctly put it, any form of eviction must be done under a court order. This avoids abuse of process and conflicts. The writer highlights the presidential directive on eviction which in my view has very good provisions, however such provisions are not prescribed by law and a person seeking to rely on them may face challenges in having them applied. It is for this reason that good directives like those issued by the president in 2013 should be backed by the law.
There is need to hasten the reform of the land laws to address the increasing land conflicts. Such reforms should not only consider the rights of tenants as against rights of landlords but should be broad to cover all other aspects of family, cultural and social attachments that people have on land.
Tom Balemesa works with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment.
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