Landlord from Hell - How to Survive as a Tenant in Nigerian Cities
Renting a property in Nigeria is a very daunting task. The trouble of renting a property of your choice is even much worse in commercial cities like Lagos. Prospective tenants are at the mercy of agents who do nothing to little investigation or due diligence on the property they want a prospective tenant to inspect and not justifying the 10% agency fee to be paid to them. Now imagine after going through such mental torture to rent an home or an apartment, then settling in within few weeks, you then discover you are stuck for the next one or two years with a landlord from hell.
Image: Alfredo Hernandez (flaticon.com)
The Nigeria housing crisis, the mass migration from rural to urban cities for better opportunities, and the over populated nature of cities like Lagos, has placed tenants at the mercy of landlords. Strife between landlords and tenants in Nigeria has a long history. However, this strife has degenerated into some unimaginable acts and counter actions. The rights of tenants (which most tenants are often oblivious of) under the Lagos State Tenancy Law for example is commonly infringed upon by landlords who have the orientation of thinking “this is my house and I can do as I please’’, resulting in tenants having horrid experiences in the hands of their landlords.
For instance, Victor, a young graduate who just completed his compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) recently got a juicy job offer with one of the prominent banks at their branch in Lekki, Lagos. In his bid to stay close to work, he rented a mini-flat in Ajah but this has become his nightmare. If he stays out later than 10 pm, he would be locked out and neither can his visitors stay overnight in his flat. He is faced with much more stringent rules. The landlord picks on him for the minutest reasons. An altercation with the landlord one Saturday morning resulted in him been issued a quit notice to vacate the flat immediately even without exhausting the rent period in the rental agreement. There are several examples of similar landlord and tenant altercations. These include a widow that defrauded her tenant of N2.6 million under the pretext of selling her late husband’s uncompleted property to the victim; a landlord whose son physically assaulted a tenant; a landlady that burgled her tenant’s room; a landlord who locked in a tenant holding him hostage in his property; and a landlord that invited soldiers to assault a tenant; and with so many other incidents that sometimes results in physical injury and in few instances fatalities.
Examination of altercations between landlords and tenants suggest that unintentional or deliberate ignorance of national or states tenancy law is responsible for the incessant clashes. According to section 3 of the Lagos State Tenancy Law (2011), a tenancy agreement is deemed to exist between a landlord and a tenant whether it is (partly) written or (partly) oral, express or implied, and for a fixed period. The law states that a tenant is entitled to quiet and peaceable enjoyment of the premises and it include the right to privacy, freedom from unreasonable disturbance, and exclusive possession of the premises and use of common areas for reasonable and lawful purpose. The law clearly states that only the court shall make order for possession of premises in situation a tenant default any part of the tenancy agreement.
Some of the common causes of landlord and tenant altercations have been found out to include disagreement over electricity or utility bills, safety or security issues, unauthorized use of premises, sanitary issues, illegal possession of premises, illegal rent increases, property maintenance and repair issues, and unpaid rents among other issues.
The best way for tenants to avoid altercations with landlords is to be very familiar with the terms of the tenancy agreements they signed with the landlord, and to never sign onto a tenancy contract that include details they do not clearly understand or which the landlord or a representative of the landlord cannot clearly explain. The wisest approach before signing a tenancy agreement is to consult a lawyer as he or she will be in the good position to detect potential issues down the road. Typical triggers to look out for are the following, with suggestions on steps to take:
Sharing utility bills: utility bills include electricity bill and water bill but waste bill is loosely included as well. First advice is to be skeptical of rental properties where utility bills are shared. It is a recipe for future disagreements that could lead anywhere. Preferably opt for properties where flat or homes have prepaid meter for power and water bill, if any. Waste bill are often fixed even if it is shared and can easily be calculated.
Landlord resides in the same property: it is very common to find landlords that live in the same building that you want to rent a property to reside in. If possible, to prevent some unnecessary rancor in the future, avoid properties where the landlord also lives in a flat within the same compound. Oftentimes, these types of landlords have the tendency to monitor tenant’s activities.
Unsettled utility bills by previous tenant: ensure you see all the most recent utility bills of the apartment or house you want to rent and be sure there are no pending bills to be paid but if there are, ensure there is a written agreement on how the bill will be settled.
Solicitor involvement: opt for properties where you have to deal with the landlord’s solicitor for all legal agreements with little or no influence from the landlord. It is most likely that the solicitor will ensure the landlord does not contravene the tenancy agreement.
Get familiar with the applicable tenancy law: this may sound boring and you may feel like a fish out the water but getting familiar with the tenancy law for the city you reside in would do you good. Know the dos and don’ts under the tenancy law. This would let you to understand where you are protected and helps you to clearly identify when a landlord is stepping out of bound and legally permissible way to resolve potential issues.
Understand your tenancy agreement: read and understand the tenancy agreement before signing it. There is nothing more heartbreaking than realizing that you are bound to unfavourable tenancy terms you could have easily avoid. If you do not have the time or do not understand any part of it, hand the tenancy agreement to your lawyer. Flag any part of the agreement you don’t understand or the part you disagree with. Simply walk away if you feel uncomfortable with the terms in the tenancy agreement.
Abide by terms of your tenancy agreement: be a good tenant and abide by all the terms outlined in the tenancy agreement you signed onto. If you recognize potential issues that could lead to future disagreement it is often better to first discuss with your landlord’s solicitor. Avoid confrontations with your landlord and other co-tenants. If you believe that your landlord is not abiding by the terms of the tenancy agreement, it is better to seek legal advice including mediation and as a last option legal action from a court of law.
Don’t ever assume: never assume the landlord will fix needed repairs or renovations before you move in or after you become a tenant. Ask questions to understand the extent the landlord will step in to maintain premises and make repairs when such is needed.
As a final note, it is important for you to know that a tenancy agreement that contravenes applicable tenancy law (e.g. Lagos State Tenancy Law) can be set aside by courts, meaning you can seek legal redress if you believe any part of the tenancy agreement contravenes local tenancy law. Most tenants live in peace in properties they do not own and that most landlord and tenant relationship often yield positive life-time experience that remain with tenants for life. However, for peaceable enjoyment of the apartment or premises you are renting, you are advised to take responsibility and look out for your own interest before committing the next few years of your life or business into a property that is owned by a landlord from hell.