Small Claims Court has no jurisdiction to hear rental disputes, High Court rules

The High Court has ruled that Small Claims Courts do not have the jurisdiction to hear or determine disputes related to renting or rental arrears.

Justice David Majanja says the cases should be handled by the Environment and Land Court.

“As regards the other categories in section 12(1)(b), (c) and (d) of the SCCA, it is clear that a claim for rent does not fall within the sphere of “money held and received’’ as the landlord in a claim for rent arrears does not hold any money that is due to a tenant,” Majanja said.

“Nor does a claim for rent give rise to tortious liability or a claim for compensation for injuries. I, therefore, find and hold that a claim for rent or rent arrears is outside the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court and ought not to have been entertained.”

He made the ruling while determining an appeal on a judgment dated February 25, 2022, where the Small Claims Court dismissed Kavneet Kaur’s claim seeking judgment of KES 1,000,000 against Lisa Kristine on account of outstanding rent.

In its Statement of Claim dated December 6, 2021, Kavneet demanded KES 1,000,000 on the basis that in 2020, Kristine rented his house in Tchui Lane, Muthaiga for KES 150,000 per month. She rented the house for a period of six months which she failed to pay the rent of KES 900,000.

It is alleged that the appellant through a WhatsApp message on May 31, 2021, admitted to owing the money and promised to pay.  However, in court filings, she denied owing the amount claimed and urged the court to dismiss the claim.

While noting that the issue of jurisdiction was never raised by the parties or noticed by the court, Justice Majanja said jurisdiction is a fundamental issue and without it, the court cannot proceed to deal with the matter.

Having reached the conclusion that the Small Claims court lacked jurisdiction to entertain a claim for rent and rent arrears, Majanja struck out the appeal referring it to the Environment and Land Court in accordance with Article 162(2)(b) of the Constitution.

“As this is an appeal from the decision of the Small Claims Court, section 38 of the SCCA provides for appeals to the High Court and this court has jurisdiction to determine the appeal including the question of whether the Subordinate Court has jurisdiction.”

Under the law, the Small Claims Court is a Subordinate Court of limited jurisdiction.

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