Friday, January 23, 2009

Playing "Chicken" With The Landlord...

A few weeks ago, we received a letter from our landlord in Ouaga. He wanted to raise our rent by 50% for 2009! True, we don’t pay a lot by Canadian standards (about $125/month), but that’s not the point. Any Burkinabè friend I asked about this said that the landlord must be deranged to ask for such an increase. No Burkinabè would pay it!

Well, I don’t think he’s deranged. I think he’s using the “ask for the sun and hope for the moon” strategy. He’s asking for 50% and hoping he’ll get 25 or even 20%. Nothing wrong with that, is there? So we, along with our duplex neighbours, asked for a meeting with him to discuss the matter.

We were going to begin by pointing out all the improvements we had made to the place with our own funds, what good, low-maintenance tenants we were, yada, yada, yada. Interestingly, all our Burkinabè friends told us not to do that. They all recommended that we put away the slingshot and pull out the rocket launcher! “Dear Sir: if you want us to move out, why don’t you just say so instead of putting the rent through the roof?” Haha :) Which is exactly what we did. He nearly fell over himself trying to disabuse us of this idea! However, he then proceeded to give us a whole list of reasons why he needed to raise the rent.

One of the primary reasons seems to be that the Burkina tax department finally caught up with him. They were now requiring him to pay tax on the income he received from us, something he had managed to avoid till now. He seemed to have straightened things out for the past several years in arrears, but now wanted to increase the rent to cover this year’s taxes.

We countered by pointing out that he had already raised the rent for each of the past two years. Therefore, we were not willing to pay any rent increase this year (yup, we’re playing hardball now :) In addition, unlike normal renters, we paid our yearly rent in one lump sum, giving our landlord (who is a merchant) a significant chunk of money to play with once a year. If he raised the rent, we would no longer be able to do this. We’d have to pay monthly like everyone else.

This hit a nerve! This was clearly a non-negotiable for him. He wanted that lump sum! So he agreed to keep the rent at the same level as last year. However, he now wanted us to pay the tax. In fact, he said that according to Burkina law, it was the renter’s responsibility to pay this tax. He’d only paid it for the last several years as a favour to us!

Well, this was the first we’d ever heard of this. So we said we’ve have to check it out. Guess what we discovered? Yup, you guessed it. It’s the landlord’s responsibility. Nice bluff, though.

We’re now gonna try a little bluff of our own. We pay the same rent and nothing more, and it’s fixed for the next 3 years, or we move. We’re counting on the fact that he wants that lump sum, something no other African or expatriate renter will be willing to give him.

I hope he doesn’t seriously call our bluff… cuz we’re not bluffing! It might be inconvenient, but we've got nothing to lose. We'll move!

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