“Life amidst a pandemic,” Chapter I: The Rent.
Disclaimer: Marcus Olang’ is not a trained and certified professional financial expert.
I’ll preface this by underscoring a belief I hold: “Life” and “work” aren’t two completely separate entities. Work is part of life, as are other bits. I see no distinct separation between the two, which is why for every single one of us, what happens at home or in the social affects our work, and conversely, our work affects what we typically refer to as our “personal life”.
However, in this very light, I’m also a firm and unrelenting advocate for boundaries. I think about the entire balance as a Venn diagram of sorts: There are points of intersection, but there are areas that “work” has absolutely no right to be in, as well as areas that “home” needs to stay out of. Interdependent, intersecting, but not entirely mutually exclusive.
Recognising this goes miles towards navigating the tension between these aspects of our lives, as well as drawing healthy boundaries to maintain our peace. I’ll explore these themes through my lens in a few other successive pieces I have lined up.
With that said, for now, let’s jump into it.
I have a gnawing and unsettling suspicion that a good number of people are being long-conned into debts they’ll have trouble repaying. Let me explain.
It’s a fact that this entire COVID-19 situation has left a majority of us with either diminished or zero income. I’m a photographer and a writer, and ALL my jobs were put on hold as soon as the first case was confirmed in Kenya. It’s felt like I’ve been drowning since then, and it’s pretty evident that many of us feel the same.
Most of us have made cutbacks to survive. I very quickly recognised the need for me to move house, for instance. The rent I was paying was an immediate pain. So I did.
Then I realised something.
A lot of folks have received no communication from their landlord and agents about rent payment terms in this time, and they aren’t initiating the conversation either. I get the feeling that the silent hope is that the landlord / agent / agency will understand the situation. Most of such, I’ve observed, are in middle-income and seemingly well-to-do areas. You can list them out if you so wish. This applies not only to the home front, but to people and entities who have leases on office spaces.
Here’s why that’s dangerous.
In this silence, you’re hoping that your agent or landlord is a reasonable human that empathises with your situation. Which, to their credit, some are. We’ve seen the stories. Stories of landlords who’ve either offered their tenants a percentage off their monthly obligation, or waived it entirely. And to such I say: Thank you. Truly.
Some, however, are not.
I moved fast because it may likely take time for my sector to recover. (Much to the deep pain in my heart.) But additionally, because I was made aware of the possibility that as soon as “lockdown” is lifted, many agents / landlords will start hammering away at your door, on the basis of the money you owe them. And anyone who’s been there before will tell you, that’s an incredibly stressful position to be in.
Here’s what will complicate it further.
The people posted as security at your gate will be given instructions not to let anyone out without clearance from the landlord / agency.
So let’s paint that picture clearly.
April & May unpaid. June rent due. July coming up. You’ve gotten to the point where it’s untenable. You tell them you have to move. They slap you with a 4-month bill.
Oh, and they tell you that you have to put in a 2-month notice. That’s 6 months in total.
And they also tell you that you won’t be allowed to move without clearing the bill.
A bill you can’t clear without work.
So you’re stuck in this devastating vicious loop.
That current silence? It’s a very dangerous gamble. It may end up being a painful one.
My suggestion? Talk to your agent / landlord now, if you haven’t already. Get their position very clearly. If there’s a waiver, have that clearly stated. If none, evaluate. There’s no shame in scaling down — a sense of grounded realism, however unromantic, is an asset to you right now.
Before what may now be a manageable mound becomes an insurmountable colossus.
Marcus Olang’ is not a trained, professional financial expert.
He is, however, a bloody brilliant writer and photographer, and a huge fan of peace of mind, healthy practice, self-reflection, and a touch of common sense.