How to Find a Place to Live in Nairobi

After writing the initial blog on Where to live in Nairobi? which focused predominantly on which areas and neighbourhoods to focus on, we got many queries on the more practical side of renting such as; do I need to pay a deposit? How should I find somewhere to live whilst I’m still in my home country? How can I avoid scams?

Therefore, I teamed up with Lynette Sogoh, the Admin of Nairobi Expat Housing to write an article on How to find a place to live in Nairobi?

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Avoid Scams – Never pay before you arrive.

To avoid being scammed, do not pay anything before you arrive in Kenya. Unless you are using a large well known realtor like Pam Golding or Knight Frank, do not pay landlords you find on Facebook or online as its likely going to be a scam and you’ll never see that money or imaginary flat that looked so good in the photos.

It’s probably a scam if…

If the landlord/agent /dealer is pressing you for payments before you can view the property. Watch out for people who give you business cards with altered details. (e.g. the printed phone number is crossed out and handwritten).  If a person claims to be working for a particular company and is communicating via email, the address should correspond with the company they are working for and not personal emails (gmail/yahoo/hotmail etc.).

While you may exercise all due care and caution, it is practical to deal with the tried and tested realtors who have been in business for longer.

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Don’t send money via bank account or pay anything before you arrive.

If you have concerns asked Lynette Sogoh, the admin of Nairobi Expat Housing by joining her group (free of charge to anyone looking for a place/home. If you wish to list a home, you will need to pay a small fee). Again, Lynette has a list of trusted agents that she can recommend. But PLEASE even if she advises someone, we both urge you to NOT pay until you arrive in Nairobi and have seen the property.

Research before you arrive. House hunt when you get to Nairobi.

The internet is wonderful place and there are loads of websites and social media groups you can use to look at the types of properties in areas you are considering living in but don’t commit to anything before you come.

Before you arrive, book an Airbnb for 2 weeks and up to a month in the area you are considering moving to. As the rental agreements can be flexible you can always cut your contract short once you move here or extend it if needed (always consult the host before of course and check their ratings/reviews online to make sure they are friendly and hospitable). Airbnb per night is about $15 a night but you could also try to negotiate if it is longer term contract. There are also great budget offers on booking.com for hotels, serviced apartments and hostels. A few do not even require pre-paid booking and are more flexible with regards to cancellations and payments.

Couchsurfing is also an option if you are really strapped for cash but it’s not a huge community in Nairobi and you may not want to sofa surf for up to 2 weeks.

If your budget is somewhere in between the two options above or you are a very social creature then you can try Westland’s Backpackers on Peponi Road (basic but has a huge roof terrace), Milimani Backpackers (close to CBD, Statehouse, Upper Hill) or Karen Camp (Karen). Check the location to see if its near your place of work etc.

Also don’t be afraid to ask your company if they’d help you out with your relocation or first couple of weeks rent for temporary accommodation whilst you get settled. You don’t know what you’ll get till you ask!

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Location. Location. Location.

Think about what your home is going to mean to you: Does it need to be near your work, or have a home office? Does it need to be near your favourite sports? Or near your kid’s school? Traffic is real and evil in Nairobi so think about how much of it you want to endure and plan your new home location around it.

Your future home. Renting a room in an apartment/house.

There are different things to checking you are just taking a room or an apartment but I recommend reading both sections as there are important points in both.

Who else lives here?

Make sure you meet everyone who is going to be living in the apartment and see if you gel together.

How long have they lived here?

People leave Nairobi all the time, and the amount of time they’ve been here and their commitments will give you a sense of how much longer they are thinking of sticking around.

What hours do they work?

You don’t want to live with someone who works a night shift and comes banging through the door at 5am or someone who works upcountry or in Somalia for 3 weeks on/off, especially if you were expecting to get to socialise with them too.

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How do they split bills?

Wifi, Electricity (KPLC), Cleaner etc. Lynette recommends the app – Splitwise works great when working out who owes what for bills in households.

Who paid for the furniture/plants in the property? Do you expect a contribution to this?

I’ve had a few friends get a bit shocked by this extra charge…make sure you ask and negotiate before hand.

Do they cook together/split food etc?

Can be a fun social element or a life saver if you are terrible cook and you are about to live with a culinary genius.

How much is the cleaner/domestic help?

Very common to employ a cleaner in Nairobi. Took me a while to adjust and I still clean before she comes…does anyone else do this…?

On average on a per day arrangement, a cleaner may charge up to about Kes 1,000 (USD 10) per day. If it is in your budget, you may also add bus fare Kes 100 on top.

Note: It is very important to do a background check ask to see their National ID, and make a copy for yourself. Do not employ cleaners/domestic help from bureaus listed on the side of the road or on posters on trees. We both recommend using the website Lynk for recommended Domestic Helpers and they do the background check for you and each person has a profile with reviews.

Do they clean delicates/iron/repair clothes?

I WISH I had asked this when I first moved to Nairobi. Many properties don’t have washing machines so hand washing is done by your clean and this means many do not wash underwear or delicates, so do ask before you employ them as it can leave you with a lot of washing to do on Sunday’s, especially when you are hungover and want to sit in bed with your pizza and netflix’s.

How much is the rent *actually*…!?

A common scam in Nairobi is for the lead tenant to collect the rent and then pay it directly to the landlord. However, you are then not entirely sure what the rent of the apartment is…so you give over your 60,000 and realise that your lead tenant has either been living rent free as the amount is way under that or they are even making money off you! I recommend speaking with the landlord first and finding out the cost of the rent of the property so you don’t fall victim to this.

Is this property being sublet?

Another issue in Nairobi is subletting. A lot of people sublet rooms here and this is illegal and gives you little protection if the landlord turns up and asks who the hell you are and where Mike the guy on the lease agreement is? Again, try to get in contact with your landlord and if they person showing you the room is being a bit sketchy, go find something else.

 

Read the below questions re: whole properties as well as this will also be invaluable when checking out your rental of a room in an apartment/house as well.

 

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Your future home. Renting whole apartments/houses.

Do a thorough check on the property and don’t be afraid to ask the landlord some in depth questions that you’d never think to ask at home:

  • How is the water supplied to the property? Does it have a borehole?

Not having water in Nairobi is quite common but knowing you have your own private supply can save many teary nights coming back from the gym to a sad lifeless shower

  • Is Wifi already set up?

Ask it’s another stage that you can avoid in the moving in process. However if not, there are plenty of local suppliers: Zuku, Safaricom, JTL, Liquid Telecom all offer in home wifi and TV packages.

  • Does the property have a generator?

We get lots of power-cuts and having a private generator means you don’t get stuck trying to make pasta in the dark.

  • What security company guards the property? How many are there? What shifts do they work?

Check that the building you are interested in has a proper security company (note how they check you when you entered the property, did they ask you to sign a book, ask you where you are going, stop your car etc? If they just wave you in, that’s a bad sign!). Note the name of the security company and give them a quick google to see what comes up online. The big ones you’ll come across are B+M, KK Security etc. Ask about night time guards/do they keep guards on the property etc. Note: I don’t directly endorse any security company in Kenya and the one used is at your own discretion.

N.B. Renting stand alone houses – you’ll need to factor in about 40,000 a month for your own private security or see if it’s included in the rent and how many guards this covers for both the day and night shift. The more you pay your guards and look after them, the lesser chances you have of becoming victim to inside burglaries. Check all your entry points when viewing the property and see if there are proper locks on all ground floor doors and windows. Nairobi on the whole I have found to be safe and in the three years we have never had a break in but it does happen so prevention is better than falling victim. Consider installing security cameras/large gate/large dog(s) etc. If you are very concerned about security, then consider living in a gated compound/community where your neighbours are close or in an apartment.

Are there service charges? What is included?

Usually security, elevators, water and generator access are included in the rent, but make sure before you sign and that it’s listed in the lease agreement or you’ll end up with a massive bill for all the communal lighting, cleaners, grounds maintenance, elevators etc.

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Is there an elevator?

Check your building has an elevator! It seems fine when you are just viewing the property and you don’t have a hundred bags of grocery shopping but going up and down at high altitude in Nairobi can take its toll. You don’t want to sign a lease for a property on the 4th floor and face a load of flights of stairs a day in the summer or rainy season…

Is there parking?

Having a car in Nairobi is great fun for weekend trips away and most apartments come with 1 parking space for the apartment and 1 guest so make sure you get parking that meets the needs of you and your flatmates/family. Most standalone homes can comfortably fit 2 – 4 cards.

Is there a caretaker?

Some apartments have a caretaker who lives on the property, usually in a small home in the garden and this can a lifesaver when your curtain rail falls down or your shower breaks suddenly. Again this is an extra charge so check if your property has one and if its included in the rent or separate. If they come to fix things, consider giving a tip as common courtesy.

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Is there a pool/gym?

The new apartment blocks being built all have fancy pools and gyms and this is a lovely extra amenity when you want to cool off after work or can’t bear the traffic of going out. Check if cost is included in rent.

How is garbage collection managed?

This is usually managed by the estate and is included in your service fee/rent. Again, check before you sign. If you don’t pay your service charge and weren’t aware you needed to thensometimes they won’t even give you garbage bags! Garbage is usually stored by the security gate and you or your cleaner will take it down as and when needed. There are a very few recycling depots available in Nairobi but if you wish to recycle for a charitable cause, there are 4 large recycling bins opposite Westgate that get emptied semi regularly the funds created from recycling these at the city depot are used for projects across the city. You’ll need to pay for parking but can access the mall afterwards from the same carpark.

Does uber/google maps recognise this address?

When you are standing in the property, quickly check on uber/taxi hailing apps and google maps to see if it appears. This will save you time and nights of tears trying to explain to bewildered taxi drivers and pizza delivery guys that your place is the black gate next to the tree because believe me, they all look like that! Also does your property have a sign with the name of the building? My friend lived in a place with no sign for a year and she nearly went insane trying to explain where she lived…

Is this property next to a nightclub?

This seems like a mad question but I’ve had a few friends WISH they’d asked this question or check google maps/the area around them before signing over as ‘it seemed really nice and quiet at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon…’. Kenyan’s love to party and that will be a highlight of your life here if you love to dance and go out. But it’s pure hell if you live next to a nightclub or bar as they usually don’t close until 3am on weekdays and up to 5am on weekends! NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) are supposed to check and make sure clubs are soundproofed and don’t upset local residence. However, this is very lightly adhered to.

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Is there construction going on around this property?

Ask the landlord and also check if the property has a new block going up next to it (you’ll see the green dust sheets flapping in the wind as Nairobi is turning into a building site of empty malls, apartments and office towers) which may seem nice and quiet on a Sunday but very noisy on a Monday morning. 

Who are the neighbours?

Do check on your neighbours, and listen out if there are some very noisy kids living upstairs who are usually at school in the day time or a new tenant doing some unfathomable drilling. Don’t be afraid to ask to view a couple of times to compare different times of day/week.

How is the traffic?

Ask the landlord or try checking out the neighbourhood during rush hour commute times so you can see if your road is a favourite for matatus/buses (who love to hoot, with conductors yelling out the window attracting passengers) or congested with beeping traffic.

Can this property be furnished? Can you please make it unfurnished?

If you don’t want to the hassle of finding your furniture (it can be frustrating in Nairobi as there is no centralized store) or you are coming with your own then ask before you sign. The average price difference goes up by about 20 – 30,000kes if it’s furnished. Be careful, if you find a place and its furnished, and you ask for it to be furnished but negotiate first, they’ll still charge you the same price either way.

Is this property walking distance to shops/malls/restaurants/matatu stops?

Have a walk around your neighbourhood afterwards and see what shops are close by. Even small Mpesa or Airtel booths can be useful when you run out of toilet paper or cooking oil. If you are planning on using public transport, ask where the nearest stop is, and if you are not planning on using it then ask for your cleaner as they’ll want to know how to get/from your place as well.

 

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The dotted line…

The viewing time and date

Top tip from Lynette: Try going on weekends so you can check out the occupancy and the neighbours. If you go during the week you can’t get a feel of how inhabited the property is as they landlord might say everyone is at work. Believe me, you don’t want to stay in an empty apartment block as it can be a major security risk. If the block is full then that is great as it’s probably well maintained and people enjoy living there.

Sign a lease agreement

Even if your landlord doesn’t have one, wait and create one yourself (plenty of templates you can get from the internet and edit with the details that are relevant to you/the price/tenancy date etc.) Make sure you and your landlord sign it. If they get sketchy about signing anything – that’s a massive red flag so maybe look for somewhere else.

Landlord’s responsibility

Accidents happen and if you break something just own up and pay for it. But if you come home to a broken pipe then let your Landlord know asap as it’s in their interest to protect their property and you. Document everything and all communication in case you need to draw on this later to claim compensation or further damages. Landlord’s in Nairobi on the whole are lovely and are excited to welcome new arrivals in Nairobi. However, they can be notoriously slow like any major city, so make sure you document all of your discussions and keep nagging at them in a friendly but firm manner.

The Deposit

Very common practice in Kenya and usually between 2-3 month’s rent. You can negotiate this but it depends on the Landlord.

TOP TIP. The rent – negotiate.

In your property viewing you’ll notice there is an abundance of property in Nairobi, in fact too much and many apartments sit empty for a while so do not be afraid to negotiate on the rent and the deposit amount. There are some landlords who will try to be cheeky and hike up the price because you are an expat. Stand your ground and if you feel its dodgy or too high, then walk. Believe me, you’ll find your dream home whatever shape or size.

As a starting guide, this is a rough price guide on what we would pay for rents in Nairobi. You can multiply by the number of bedrooms you are looking for (prices all in kes):

Westlands – a room: 40,000 – 50,000.

Kilimani – a room: 40,000 – 60,000.

Kileleshwa – a room: 45,000+

Lavington: a room 50,000+

Junction: a room 50,000+

Parklands: a room 40,000+

Karen, Gigiri, Runda – starting from 80,000 +++

If you are really on a budget, look out for SQ’s (Servants Quarters). Depending on how basic they are and on the location, you may find one starting from 15,000 upwards.

Final Tip

Don’t share details about yourself on groups: don’t post photos of yourself or your mobile number or your email. The last thing you want is to be harassed by someone before you even arrive.


We hope you found this article and as always if you feel there is something we missed or you want to know more about, like a specific neighbourhood, then please do get in touch via the blog or leave a comment.

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