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Expats moving to Kenya, especially those who are unsure of what to expect by relocating to an African country, will be pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of accommodation available. European expats, in particular, can look forward to finding accommodation that's more spacious than anything they'd be able to find back home.
Though many expats buy property in Kenya, those only staying a short while are more likely to rent. Regardless of buying or renting, we recommend that expats do their research on all relevant leasing and property law.
Types of accommodation in Kenya
Most expats initially opt for renting a property in Kenya. There's a wide spectrum of properties available, from standalone houses on big plots located away from city centres to garden cottages, as well as maisonettes and villas. Downtown apartment blocks and housing units in townhouse complexes are also available and are popular types of accommodation in Nairobi.
Freestanding houses are typically considered by expat families relocating to Kenya, either to rent or buy. Kids and expats who are horticulture enthusiasts can appreciate the large gardens and plot sizes of this type of accommodation – but a heavy price tag is normally attached, adding to the cost of living. Some freestanding homes may be simple or small bungalows while others are more luxurious and modern multi-storey buildings.
As with most major world cities, apartments abound in Kenya’s large urban areas, with both high-rise apartment blocks and secure smaller flats and townhouses. Apartments generally suit young and single expats who hope to rent short term. They are also less maintenance than a house, with apartment managers handling the general upkeep.
Gated complexes and estates
Gated complexes or estates are one of the most common types of expat accommodation in Kenya. Safe and securely walled in, these shared complexes offer houses and flats, as well as shared amenities and facilities such as swimming pools. Accommodation in these estates is common among expats and is often arranged by an employing company or organisation who owns some of the houses.
Furnished vs unfurnished
Accommodation in Kenya comes with varying levels of furnishings. Some property types, such as apartments, are more likely to come fully furnished, which is quite popular, though pricey. Still, most properties across the country are semi-furnished or unfurnished.
Shipping furniture to Kenya can be a lengthy, costly and maddening process, so it's often far easier to purchase furniture once settled in the country. However, this approach also has its shortcomings as imported furniture is notoriously expensive and locally made articles vary widely in quality. The bottom line is that furnishing a house is another budgetary factor that demands serious consideration.
Finding accommodation in Kenya
Expats looking for accommodation in Kenya should refer to online property portals, such as Property24, BuyRentKenya and PigiaMe. These will give a rough rundown of areas and suburbs and prices, acting as a platform for beginning the search. This can easily be done long before leaving one’s home country, helping potential expats plan out their budget.
Social media platforms and listings in local newspapers are also useful resources.
Real estate agents, however, are an even more helpful resource when hunting for a place to stay in Kenya. Well informed about the market, they can present expats with a bouquet of options to match their desires and financial requirements. They will also oversee the leasing process, which unburdens expats of much of the paperwork associated with relocating.
Renting accommodation in Kenya
Accommodation in Kenya can be costly, and expats may be responsible for financing these premises themselves, without the assistance of an employer. This makes rental accommodation a significant monthly expense. Expats working in Kenya are advised to negotiate that their employment contract contains at least some kind of provision for a housing stipend, which is common practice in the country.
New arrivals looking to rent in Kenya must be aware of the tenancy laws and what a rental contract entails, including the fine print. We recommend expat tenants scrutinise their lease and enlist the services of a real estate agent or a specialist familiar with property law in Kenya. These professionals understand property law and note subtle details in the terms and conditions of a lease.
Expats staying short term may prefer a tenancy agreement that is flexible and normally ranges between three months and two years. Foreign residents staying longer can negotiate to extend and renew their lease.
Although leases and tenancy agreements in Kenya are largely in the landlord’s favour, there are restrictions on rent increments. Landlords cannot increase the amount charged within the first 12 months that a tenant has rented the property nor within 12 months of their previous rental increase.
Deposits in Kenya often equate to three months’ rent, though some landlords may only ask for one month's rent. This amount may be used to cover property and furniture damages caused by a tenant, although landlords are responsible for general repairs and basic wear and tear.
Deposits are refundable after the end date of the lease. Laws regarding deposits are unclear, and tenants who terminate a lease early may still need to wait till the end date on their original agreement to receive their deposit refund. If an expat wishes to terminate their lease early, they must give enough notice; similarly, landlords cannot evict their tenants without giving notice.
Utility bills are not usually included in rental prices and are at an additional cost to tenants. Expats should be prepared to pay for their electricity and the internet.
Home safety and security costs
Home safety is a concern in Kenya, as it would be in any country with such social inequality. Most expat accommodation in Kenya has security measures in place or, if not, they can easily be installed. A typical security package will include stationed guards or night watchmen, motion-sense outdoor lighting, burglar bars on the windows, panic buttons and night-time intruder alarms. This may seem overwhelming at first, however, with these measures in place, many tenants report that they feel safe in their homes in Kenya.
Safer still are townhouse complexes. Known as gated communities or estates, access to individual units is controlled by security guards at a boom gate, which is only opened to allow residents and their visitors to come and go.
Note that expats renting a private standalone house may bear the brunt of these costs unless it is included in an employment contract. In gated estates, security systems may be included as part of the rent.
►Moving to the capital? Learn about the recommended Areas and Suburbs in Nairobi
"Expats used to be able to expect to rent a self-contained former colonial style bungalow or house with a sizeable garden but due to the radical rise in land values, the norm is now more apartment living or for families, townhouse dwellings (clusters of 10 or so 4-5 bed townhouses on a shared plot)." Read how the accommodation options in Kenya have changed over the years in our interview with Frances.
"There are many luxury houses in and around the city. Most of these houses are in gated compounds or standalones..." Read more about an expat's perspective on the standard of housing in this interview with Zeynep.
Are you an expat living in Kenya?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Kenya. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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