Many residential houses in the City of Kigali are being used for business purposes, our survey shows.
Civil society organisations, some government institutions, bars and restaurants, churches, political parties, pharmacies, and so on have all opted for residential houses rather than commercial/administrative facilities due to various reasons.
While some say the residential premises are more affordable, other business owners choose them for security reasons.
In 2009, Akazi Kanoze, a project supported by different organisations including USAID and the Education Development Center-EDC opened their office in a house designed as a residence in Kacyiru, about 200 meters from Top Tower Hotel.
This single storey house, plus compound totalling 4,000 square meters, costs them US$ 2,500 (Rwf1, 595,000) per month in rent fees, while about 336 square metres of space at Kigali City Tower goes for US$ 9,000 (Rwf5, 742,000).
In any one of the Pension plazas owned by RSSB, which remain largely unoccupied, one would have to part with about $52,000 for 4,000 square metres ($13 for each square metre).
According to Godefroid Nsekambabaye, the finance and office manager in EDC, when they tried to open another office because of their expansion projects, they were hindered by the exorbitant rental fees.
"We were planning to open a new project. When we went to the Kigali City Tower to rent another office to accommodate the project, we were told to pay US$ 20 per square meter. That alone gave us the impression that even if we were to rent this office in the city centre, we would pay thrice what we pay here."
The impression of EDC is that residential houses are good because they are not relatively expensive yet they are specious with enough parking space unlike commercial buildings that charge high rent fees and offer limited facilities.
In some institutions, even, the staff take advantage of the kitchen in the residential house to hire a cook to prepare them meals.
For non profit organisations, Edouard Munyamaliza, the chairman of Rwanda Civil Society Platform said, "It's logical to choose the least expensive house as for NGOs because they mostly depend on donations and hand outs so they cannot spend a lot on rent."
Other businesses also have factors which hold them in residential houses.
Gilbert Hirwa, the manager of Mick Mouse Bar and Restaurant located in Kimihurura said, "We know that city centre has an intense movement of people, but we have chosen this place to target clients who like calm environment".
In 2011, the City of Kigali issued an instruction to people running their businesses in residential houses to either vacate or apply for an authorisation that would allow them to turn the facility into a commercial/administrative house.
Regis Munyentwali, the Head of Inspection in City of Kigali, said there is nothing wrong with transforming a house from the initial purpose as long as one has authorisation. Those applications have to include, among other things, the number of rooms, washrooms, parking and other facilities the house has and the city council evaluates the demand according to the business status and the people who need to use the facility.
"We happen to see people running a business for 100 clients in a house that can only accommodate eight people. Obviously we close those ones," said Jean Claude Munara, the vice mayor in charge of economic affairs in Gasabo district.
Most of the businesses that The New Times talked to said they have already been cleared to operate in former residential properties.
Bruno Rangira, the Director of Communication and Media at Kigali City Council, said that about 156 people filed their applications to turn residential houses to business/administrative offices since year 2011. Of these applications, 93 were approved without any further condition, while 51 received conditional approval (to increase the parking space, more toilets, etc) depending on the business and 12 applications were rejected.
Rangira said most of those businesses have applied for business related to bars and restaurants.
The vice mayor in charge of economic affairs in Kigali City, Alphonse Nzeyimana, said noise pollution is one of the factors they consider while granting authorisation.
But while some business operators do not want to leave residential houses, other tenants find they are not appropriate.
One of them is the Ministry of Youth and ICT, which has been renting a residential house in Nyarutarama, Remera sector in Gasabo district since January 2012.
Emmanuel Habumuremyi, an advisor in the ministry, said they were supposed to leave this location six months later, but relocation of government institutions follows certain procedures and that's the reason why they are still there.
"This place is not very accessible to all the people we serve because some do not have the means to hire a motorcycle because no taxis ply this route. We will be glad to have an office in a more accessible place," he said.