Thursday, September 10, 2009

our rental situation (but the newsletter is still below!)

Hello again,

As we mentioned in our newsletter, we are in a difficult situation with our landlord and the house we are renting. We want to share with you the details of our rental situation so you could join us in prayer. We have tried to summarize, but the situation is a little complex!

First of all, renting property and relationships with landlords can be very different in Africa than in the States. Due to lack of funds, many people in Africa may take years or decades to build a house, adding on little by little as they have money. That means that when expatriates arrive and look for a house to rent, some of the options they look at may be in various stages of not being completed, depending on the economy of that particular country or region. Rent may seem low compared to rent in the west, especially in rural areas, but, also unlike the States, very often the tenant is responsible for any and all repairs and improvements. This keeps the rent low; it is a stable income for a landlord who may or may not have another source of income, but the ways the tenant improves the house increase the value of his property.

Montepuez is a small town, and when our team decided to move up here, there were very few rental options for our (then) six families. Most of us moved into houses that were unfinished or in serious disrepair. We began renting this house in April of 2004 with many things in it broken or unfinished, and we have put a lot into this house and property, and in our opinion, greatly increased its value, while the landlord has invested in this property only very little. In the last few years, however, our relationship with our landlord has gotten increasingly difficult. It has seemed to us that he wants to be a rural African landlord (where the tenant makes all the repairs and improvements) AND a western landlord (where he can increase the rent every year).

There are several other factors involved, first of which that he is educated, well-connected, works for the finance department of the government, and is trying to acquire/invest in properties in a few different areas (those things are still very, very rare in Mozambique). Also, he lives in Nampula, which is the second largest city in the whole country, and where a house of this size with a yard (though in much better shape) could rent for $1500 to an NGO with a large budget (Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, etc). Also, his family is a factor; he is probably the only one in his family with any money. In many African cultures this means that he is expected to support not only his immediate family, but most of his extended family, too (uncles, aunts, parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins) whenever they have a financial need or want.

Please understand we are not saying the American rental system is good and the Mozambican system is bad. What is difficult is the meeting of different expectations from different cultures, understanding each other, and trying to make that work so that we can live here.

A year ago we had drawn up a new contract “for one year to be renewed for four additional years.” The expectation was that the rent would remain stable for the life of the contract, for the express reason that we had invested so much to improve/repair his house (the value of all our improvements spread out over the next five years is equal to the rent he wishes we were paying). However, the first year is up and he has just sent us a new contract without warning that included an increase of more than 50% of our rent.

We have been having difficult conversations with him by phone over the last few days. Our desire is that he either honor what we had agreed upon, or agree to a modest yearly rent increase for the remainder of the contract. His behavior is erratic, with some conversations almost being reasonable, and then a few hours later receiving an angry text message from him saying he’s through and wants us out of the house in 90 days. And then, the next morning, a conversation that is almost normal again, only to be followed in a few hours by him declaring that he wants us out of the house.

At this point, we are trying to arrange a time where I can meet with him to talk in person; we pray that conversation will go well. However, due to his increasingly unreasonable behavior over the last few years, we think it is wise for us to get out of the relationship – he may end the contract himself, we are not sure. If he does, we hope he would follow the contract and reimburse us for what we have invested in the house. Because of our experience with him, and because of the lack of rental properties in Montepuez, we are hesitant to rent another house with the expectation of living there for the remainder of our time in Mozambique. Another option would be to build.

Our prayers have been:
• that we will be kind and still show God’s kingdom of love to our landlord, even in our frustration
• that his heart will soften and that he will know God
• that God will provide our family a place to live

We would appreciate you joining us in these prayers; we know we are in God’s hands. We also know that though he never promised we won’t have trials, he does promise that he is always with us, and that we can’t be separated from his love.

Grace and peace,
Alan, Rachel, Abby, Ellie, and baby Howell

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