Majority of home occupiers in Nigeria, who remain largely tenants, have raised alarm over the inability of the National Assembly and the State Assemblies to enact relevant rent control laws which will protect them from the strong pro-landlord rental market. This write up examines how the absence of such rent control laws has increased the many woes of today's Nigerian tenant.
Increase in Nigeria's population especially in the urban areas has led to astronomical increase in the demand for affordable housing whilst the supply side remains for the most part underdeveloped and unable to meet growing demand.
In just about any lease, some of the most important parts are the rent provisions. The payment of rent is critical to both the landlord and tenant: it's what the tenant has to pay for the right and privilege to use the property, and it's what the landlord charges to cover things like the costs of maintaining the property and hopefully make a profit.
In almost every lease, the parties agree on the amount of rent, and it's not uncommon for leases to set out if and when rent will increase (or decrease) and by how much. But, even when the parties agree on such things, some states and cities have "rent control" laws that limit how often a landlord can raise rent and by how much.
Austin Okonma, a journalist in Abuja, said his landlord recently gave him a sudden notice to quit after he had spent his hard earned money to uplift the physical structure of the flat he occupies in Kubwa, a suburb of Abuja.
Another tenant, SadeeqUsman, an accountant at the National Assembly Service Commission, Abuja, said he was driven to purchase a plot of land in Dakwa, near Dei-Dei, Abuja which he has started developing gradually because of the habit of his former landlord to arbitrarily increase his rent every year.
Therefore, it is important for every landlord and tenant to know some things about the rent provisions of a lease, and if you're in an area with rent control laws, it's even more critical.
The effort of the Federal Government of Nigeria, especially the National Assembly and State Assemblies to propose a Rent Control legalisation has met with criticism as a result of the failure of the supply side of the real estate market and also, the failure of prior and subsisting Rent Control legislations and home ownership schemes to address the problems of housing in Nigeria.
Rent Control is a residual matter under the 1999 Constitution. As a result, most of the States in Nigeria have their individual Rent Control Laws which for the most part have similar provisions as the Rent Control Law of Lagos State.
But though rent control laws exists in some states, it has largely remained a dormant law as most tenants are left to suffer in the hands of their landlords who, in the absence of any sort of control, exploit the situation with arbitrary increase in the monthly or annual rent on their property.
The Land Use Act of 1978 covers the use and rental of public lands. The State of Lagos has an un-enforced Rent Control of Residential Premises Law and Recovery of Possession Law. The Rivers State likewise has an unimplemented Recovery of Possession Edict.
Lagos has a "Rent Control of Residential Premises Law" but this is not implemented.
Rents are paid, in advance, for two to three years. Some landlords accept advance payments for only one to 1Â½ years; however, in that case rents are significantly higher.
Contracts last for the duration of the advance payment, typically, one to three years. An option to renew with rent adjustment can be included in the contract. If the tenant pre-terminates a contract, no refunds are made. Subleasing can be included in the contract. Under the 1997 Recovery of Possession Law of Lagos State and the 1991 Recovery of Possession Edict 1991 of Rivers State, only the court can order the eviction of tenants. The court process is slow and cumbersome. Landlords evict tenants using an assortment of tricks, phony legal cases, intimidation, locking out tenants, and physically throwing them of their property.
The State of Lagos offers a Citizens Mediation Centre for resolving landlord and tenant issues. If mediation fails, the parties involved can seek redress in court. The protection afforded tenancies by this law is not intended to deprive a land owner of the fruits of his or her or its investment in real estate. The protection only requires that a tenant should only loose his tenancy after due recovery procedure and processes are complied with by the landlord.
Where there is a default by a tenant in respect of any aspect of his tenancy and the landlord intends to terminate the tenancy and have possession of his property revert to him the landlord, a proper notice to quit must be personally served on the tenant. This is the first and most technical of the procedures for recovering possession of premises.
The length of notice to be given to a tenant to quit is usually determined by the tenure of the tenancy where no express unequivocal provision is made in a written Tenancy Agreement to such effect. Thus, where the tenant pays his rent on a weekly basis, a week's notice to quit would be valid. Similarly, where the rental is paid monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or yearly, a month, quarter or half yearly notice as appropriate would be valid to determine the tenancy.
It is mandatory that the notice to quit must be issued and served personally on the tenant. It is also mandatory that the notice to quit must be served to expire at the anniversary or expiration of the tenancy. Thus, a notice to quit in respect of a tenancy that begins in January of a particular year and expires in December of the same year must be served on the Tenant on or before the end of June of that year so that from 1st July to the end of December of the same year, the mandatory six months' notice would have been properly served on the Tenant. This was the holding of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the matter of African Petroleum v. Owodunni (1991) 11-12 SC 56 @ 71 lines 5-15.
The view of some solicitors that a tenancy for a fixed term does not require a notice to quit but only a notice of the owner's intention to recover possession of his premises is too risky a position to implement should the matter be placed before a court of law for adjudication.
An Estate Surveyor and Valuer, Ahmed Shehu Dogon-Daji, said in Abuja that even when rent control laws are there they cannot be implemented because of the refusal of grant to fund research on local building materials through the Nigerian Building Roads Research Institute (NBRRI) and the refusal of government to bring the price of cement down because of their interest or romance with some maufacturers.
Similarly, Mal. Musa Aliyu, MD, Urban Shelter Ltd., an Abuja-based property development company, admitted that though the courts are there, absence of rent control laws tend to allow landlords to abuse the situation.