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The Landlord and the Tenant - a short story

Updated on January 7, 2024
Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki is a writer on social-political issues of his home country, Kenya. He is also a published author of 21 works of fiction.

Mike writing a research paper?

I know you don’t believe it. When he told me that he was writing a research paper I did not believe it either. Mike is not the academic type, unless the research is on the unlikely subject of beer, but that is another story. The subject, as he said upon much probing, was going to be a secret. I am one of those very transparent and accountable citizens. I also make sure the playing field is always level, so instead of arguing with a short fellow like Mike about a research paper whose purpose and value only he knew, I decided to relegate the subject to the furthest corner of my mind in order to concentrate on more pressing issues.

While Mike was hibernating to write his thesis, I decided to move house so that my bride would find a more comfortable abode and hopefully make up her mind that ‘I was the one’, once and for all. I hadn’t done the ‘kneeling thing’ to get an answer, which I thought could wait for now. As luck would have it, I found this magnificent three bed-roomed bungalow as the agent called it with a vast compound for the children to play in, a servant’s quarters to accommodate a house-help (one room), a cook (another room) and the gardener (the last room). I was elated. Besides, there was an excellent front lawn for me to practice the ‘kneeling’ routine. The rent was manageable, and I was going to have close to quarter of an acre for a kitchen garden. Since the Landlord was so kind as to let me have such a vast empire for a pittance, I decided to exploit his kindness to make a request or two.

“Of course we’ll repair that,” he said when I pointed out that the toilet bowl was leaking. He said ten more of courses when I pointed out that 50% of the doors did not have keys. 25% of the windows did not have handles. 2% of the sockets were damaged and 2 window panes were broken. The boiler was out of order, one tap was useless and the bathroom paint was peeling off. The old man started to tap his foot. I realized that my catalog of complaints was beginning to irritate the benevolent man. After he had gone, I put the request in writing and discreetly handed it over to him soon after moving in. The grass on the lawn was up to the windows but I figured that that was easy to sort out on my own.

The following day I paid someone to cut the grass and burn it to ashes. Before the smoke was up in the sky, the Landlord was at my doorstep without a smile on his wrinkled face. I had thought he would be impressed to see that I had already started to improve the property.

“You haven’t improved anything,” he blurted out... “That grass was fodder for my cow. Next time tell me to cut it and it will promptly be done.”

I was aghast and dumbfounded. I repeated the word ‘promptly’ in my head. Promptly like the other repairs on the list that I had given him. Since I would be saving money by not paying someone to cut the grass, I chose not to argue with him. Now the lawn was neat and tidy. I put one knee on the ground raised my hands as if I was offering roses to someone.

“It is a good thing to pray, often,” the Landlord said and turned to go away.

Two weeks after moving into my palatial home, Mike came out of his research cocoon and looked me up. He found me at our favorite drinking joint having a pint as I agonized on how to make a memorable proposal to my future bride. He was now through with his thesis and wished that I have a peek at the 500 pages of primary and secondary research.

“What is the subject of your thesis?” I asked. Mike raised his chin and twisted his mouth. I assumed that to be an academic preliminary to the pronouncement of the subject. It turned out I was right.

“A brief study in Contemporary Landlordism and Tenantism,” Mike said with an air of importance. I looked at the brick in my hand and whispered under my breath, ‘brief indeed.’ Mike made no further attempt to expound on the subject.

“So?” I asked, expecting at least some polite explanation to the choice of such a boring subject.

“So read it and find out what I am talking about. I hear you moved house,” Mike changed the subject, or so I thought.

“I did. Why don’t I take you there now so you can see my palatial home for yourself?” I asked as I struggled to push the brick back in to its huge envelope. Mike indicated with his eyes that we could go and I stood up to lead the way. I was sure he would be impressed.

“How is Faith,” Mike asked as I drove him to my place in my ‘wheels.’

“Oh, she’s fine,” I replied evasively.

“Have you proposed yet?”

“When I do, I will let you know,” I replied curtly.

“Sorry I asked,” Mike replied.

Mike gets to see my home

Fifteen minutes later, were arrived at my residence. I parked the car in front of the house and got out of the car methodically, expecting Mike to follow me. Mike went round the compound with his nose in the air. When I invited him in, he went through the house with the keenness of a detective.

“Have you noticed?” Mike asked a hanging question.

“Noticed what?”

“50% of the doors do not have keys. 25% of the windows do not have handles. 2% of the sockets are damaged and I saw at least 2 window panes...

“That are broken...” I finished the sentence before giving him a copy of the list I had prepared for the landlord. “Even the boiler is out of order and the bathroom paint was peeling off.”

Mike perused the list and said nothing. I took him to the servant’s quarters and the garden hoping that, if the house interior wasn’t impressive enough, at least the landscape would be.

“You know, you really should read my thesis,” Mike said at last after going through the entire sightseeing in silence.

“I promise to find time to read it,” I said before offering him a beer to uplift his spirits.

We enjoyed our beer as we discussed many subjects. We however gave the topic of my house and Mike’s thesis a wide berth.

A few weeks later, the grass looked very delicious and palatable, from a cow’s point of view that is. I made a mental note to inform the landlord so that he could get the grass cut and delivered to the cow. I was ready for a visit by my girlfriend and I intended to propose right there on the front lawn, but the grass had to be cut first.

I was relaxing in the sitting room, perusing a copy of my favorite newspaper, when I saw something through the window. It moved out of sight before I could make out what it was. I moved to the window to investigate. Before I could stick my head out of the window, a bovine stuck its head into my sitting room. Both man and beast were shocked. The cow got over the shock faster than I did and moved on to mow the grass. Instead of taking the grass to the cow, the landlord had decided to bring the cow to the grass. How practical, I thought.

That evening, I decided to make one more practice run at kneeling down to propose, now that the grass was low. The sun had just gone down and dusk was setting in, creating the perfect mood for a proposal. Instead of hard firm ground, I felt like I was on quick sand when my knee sunk into a fresh lumpy cow’s dung. After springing up like one who had been stung, I noticed that more of the soggy staff dotted my unevenly mowed compound.

Six months later, after my proposal had been made successfully, and we were deep into marriage preparations, the landlord came over to see me. I was happy to see the money guzzler in person. Every month he had received his rent on time and in full. ‘he is here to do something about my list at last,’ I thought. After exchanging a few pleasantries, he got to the point.

“About the rent...” he started.

“I have paid you on time every month,” I cut him short in case his memory had been failing, which was highly likely.

“Oh yes you have. But my costs have gone up in that period.” He said as he momentarily looked into the skies as if to follow his rising costs. “From next month your rent will go up by 12%.”

“What! After only six months?” I exploded.

“You really can’t complain, can you? A three bed-roomed house with a three roomed servant’s quarter, a flower bed and a huge garden... This type of property can fetch up-to three times what you are paying,” he said and turned to go. Perhaps the clown was right, I thought. My fiancée had really loved the house. Maybe I was really lucky that this glutton had not increased the rent by 20%. I paid the increases rent with the hope that it would take at least a year before I set my eyes on the landlord again. Me and my fiancée had plans, big plans.

My dear, most dear landlord!

After only one month, the landlord was back at my doorstep. He had learned exactly when to find me in order not to waste a trip.

“The rent?” I asked, ignoring his good evenings.

“No, no, no,” he said, much to my relief. “It’s about potatoes.”


“Yes. They are fetching a very good price now because of the drought. “You see, I noticed that you have only planted kale and some scrawny looking tomatoes in the garden that I allowed you to use on MY property.”

“Surely you don’t want to dictate that I plant potatoes, do you?” I asked quizzically even though I strongly smelled a rat in this visit.

“Not you,” the landlord replied emphatically.

“Then who?” I wondered, fearing the worst.

“Me,” the landlord said, thumping his chest old chest for emphasis.

“You? Plant potatoes on my shamba?”

It is not your shamba. It is mine. That’s the problem with tenants. They pay rent and imagine it’s a mortgage. If you want to continue planting kale and tomatoes, then you will have to pay an extra 1000 shillings per month. After all, as I told you before, the market rate for this property is three times what you are paying.”

I looked at the greedy fellow and decided that 1000 shillings was not going to come between him and my kitchen garden. I paid him 3000 to cover three months on the spot and I hoped it would take me at least three years before I saw him again.

Two months later, the despicable fellow was back. I saw him through the window ogling at my kale and potatoes. I wondered what his entrepreneurial mind had directed him to do this time in incessant efforts to milk me dry.

“What is it this time,” I asked rudely. I had paid him on time each month and allowed his gross dung manufacturing cow to mow the grass. Besides he had the extra 1000 shillings to let be my kale and tomato crops. I saw no need for politeness.

“Relax young man, no need to worry.”

“Every increment in rent is a cause for worry, old man!”

“There’s no increment this time,” he said as he invited himself into my sitting room. I relaxed a little and offered the extortionist a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

“It’s about the servant’s quarters,” the glutton said as he sipped a cup of tea.

“But you just said you don’t want more money,” I said. I found that tea to be the most tasteless I ever sampled, all on account of this unwelcome visitor. I realized that I had stood up. I was trembling. Some of the tea splashed onto my shirt sleeve but I fought hard to control my nerves. I quickly sat down to avoid causing a homicide.

“Not from you. I have two tenants to take up two of the rooms. After all, you don’t have any servants yet. You will still have one room ready for the time you get one servant.”

I did not respond, partly because the part of me that was willing to react was not my mouth but my fist. I put both fists in my pockets and waited for the insatiable monster to go. Now was the time to read Mike’s Thesis – Contemporary Landlordism and Tenantism.

By the time I finished reading Mike’s brick of a paper, I had a three bed-roomed bungalow with two neighbors on the compound and a cow for a lawn mower, without of course a kitchen garden. I couldn’t even sit on the lawn and enjoy the sunshine, unless I wanted to savor the life of a dung beetle. From Mike’s paper, it seemed most tenants were going through similar problems. Tucked somewhere were a few words of comfort:

  • Landlords prefer verbal contracts because they are more like “Gone with the wind.”
  • A landlord’s promise is like spilled milk – just try to collect.
  • The best landlord is the one you never get to see. The second best is the one you see once a year. That way, your problems are postponed for 12 months.
  • A smart tenant should have a written contract dully signed by both parties and witnesses. It will mean nothing in the long rung, but you might fool the landlord that it will mean something in court.
  • Make friends with your landlord. He or she may turn out to be the DEVIL you know.

With that, I made some grammatical and spelling corrections on Mike’s thesis and gave him some suggestions of further research. I promised myself and my fiancée a better roof over our heads as soon as was practically possible before going to the window to admire the cow.

Say bye bye to Landlords with this House Plans

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A humourous look at a low-end landlord

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Emmanuel Kariuki


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