When it comes to living and working in Nairobi, rental expense is arguably the biggest burden city residents face on a monthly basis.
According to the latest (2021) Cost of Living Survey conducted by consultancy firm Mercer, Nairobi is ranked as the 15th most expensive city in Africa, and 145th globally.
Rental rates across the Kenyan capital have been on a rapid trajectory over the last decade, with tenants paying in the upwards of Ksh350,000 per month in some of the posh estates in the city.
The average rental rate for property went from Ksh38,500 in December 2000, to Ksh162,700 by June 2021. These figures represent the average rent of all properties offered to let.
Notably, the Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on landlords following the massive loss of jobs, leading some to reduce the rental rate, or risk losing tenants.
This also explains the mass exodus witnessed in Nairobi, where thousands opted to relocate to the city’s satellite towns, where rent is relatively cheaper.
For example, in Athi River town, rents dropped by 4.3% over the second quarter of 2021 as detailed in the Hass Rental Index report for the period in question.
As expected, affordability is the key driver in the apartment rental market, with Riverside Drive (a suburb in the city), recording the highest apartment rents averaging at Ksh170,000 per month in the second quarter of 2021.
When it comes to settling on a house to rent in Nairobi, tenants more often than not, have an eye out for a good house that fits within their budget with security a major factor under consideration when making such a decision.
However, city residents are also faced with a trade off scenario in that the cheapest houses are located in the city’s outskirts, which translates to an increase in the monthly transport budget for those that have to commute to the Central Business District (CBD) on a daily basis.
A look through the thousands of properties tagged as available for rent in and around the city reveals that a majority of the cheapest houses are located in Nairobi’s Eastlands area.
In this section of the city, the majority of the estates have single rooms, bedsitters, one bedrooms as well as 2-bedroomed houses.
Let’s look at examples of specific estates and the average rental price range for one-bedroom apartments.
Imara Daima (Ksh13,000 – Ksh21,000)
Embakasi (Ksh10,000 – Ksh17,000)
Komarock (Ksh9,000 – Ksh15,000)
Donholm (Ksh8,000 – Ksh15,000)
Pipeline (Ksh7,000 – Ksh15,000)
Utawala (Ksh6,500 – Ksh13,000)
Further away from the city, a new crop of satellite towns such as Ngong, Rongai and Kitengela have proven to be quite popular with scores of Nairobians opting to live there.
One bedroom apartments in the outskirt towns average at Ksh13,000 per month, however, commuting from some of these areas can be quite costly and often plagued with daily traffic snarl ups such as Ngong and Rongai
Aside from the cheap rental rates and spacious houses that offer what can be deemed as value for money, some of these emerging towns also offer a major reduction in transport costs.
This is mainly due to the changing transport infrastructure in Nairobi.
A good example can be found in areas such as Mlolongo and Syokimau where residents now enjoy the convenience of Nairobi’s new commuter trains.
Travelling via train is not only cheaper, but also saves on a huge amount of time that would have otherwise been spent in the nightmare that is Mombasa Road traffic.
At the end of 2020, the national government launched modernised central railway stations across Nairobi as well as an integrated commuter rail service aimed at decongesting traffic.
As an example, a number of trains operating on different time schedules depart daily from the Syokimau station to the Nairobi Central Station, with scheduled stops at Makadara and Imara Daima stations.
A standard fare of Ksh100 would translate to Ksh4,000 a month for a resident who commutes to the CBD 5 days a week.
If he/she lives in Syokimau, that would translate to Ksh2,000 potential transport savings, as matatus charge an average of Ksh150 for a one way trip to the city during peak hours.
Nairobi’s new and emerging transport landscape can be used to explain the rising number of residents moving to the city’s outskirts, where rent is relatively cheaper.
However, it is also important to note that Kenya Railway Services (tasked with managing the commuter trains), is still constantly trying to streamline its services, with city residents calling for cheaper rates and predictable schedules.
The Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS) is also currently working on new ways to make commuting in and around the capital more convenient as well as affordable.
In 2019, Transport Cabinet Secretary, James Macharia, announced that the government would spend Ksh5.8 billion to set up a lane for high-capacity buses along Thika Road in a bid to ease Nairobi’s traffic congestion.
This is one of the five Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system corridors planned in Nairobi, and is expected to have a direct impact on rental rates across the city.
Despite the potential of an increase in rental prices in estates located along the cheaper transport corridors, city residents living in the emerging satellite towns are arguably better positioned to make substantial savings at the end of the day.