The Recurring Landlord-Tenant Dispute in Nigeria: Who takes the Blame?
Without doubt, getting an apartment in many parts of Nigeria is an overwhelming task due to a number of factors ranging from the size of your budget to the quality/type of properties.
One challenge that most individuals frequently encounter before and after renting apartments is landlord-tenant disputes and this dated back to the mid-1970s.
The experience of owning a property in Nigeria comes with its fair share of problems especially as it relates with the type of tenants at one’s disposal.
Suffice to say that problems between tenants and landlords are among the most contentious issues between individuals after the issues of land ownership.
It is a problem that has defied numerous interventions aimed at restoring normalcy in the housing sector by successive governments in the country with the landlords constantly at war with their tenants over purported breach of tenancy agreement by one of the parties.
More often than not, the disputes between the parties are caused by one of the following reasons – unpaid rents, sanitary issues, payment of electricity bills, late night movement, pet ownership and regular increase in rents by house owners.
Some landlords are in the habit of increasing the house rent every year notwithstanding the prevalent economic and other situations at the period.
The inability of many house owners to undertake repair or maintenance works on their properties has been identified as a major cause of frequent tussle with their tenants.
Basically, the landlords are expected to repair things like leaking roofs, broken boilers and electrical faults based on the agreement signed by both parties.
Curiously, over 80 percent of the disputes between landlords and tenants occur in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital known for its perennial housing problems and huge rents.
Many of the landlord-tenant disputes resulted in deaths while a few others resulted in physical injury and other unfortunate occurrences, including court cases.
The Lagos State government in its efforts at addressing the problem in 2011 came up with the state tenancy law that governs the conduct of landlords and tenants in the state.
The law for instance forbids a landlord or his agent from demanding or receiving rent in excess of six months from a monthly tenant or one year from a yearly tenant.
It also prescribes a three-month imprisonment or N100,000 fine for both any landlord and tenant involved in the act.
Sadly, however, the measure has not deterred landlords and real estate developers from increasing rents or demanding exorbitant prices from existing tenants and desperate house-seekers in search of decent accommodation in the state.
Ironically, the rents vary across all locations in the state.
For instance, a newly developed mini-flat (a room-and-a parlour with kitchen and toilet fitted to a bathroom) was given out for between N400,000 and N600,000 in Lagos Mainland and over N700,000 in Lagos Island in 2021.
The average annual rents for a two-bedroom flat in the two areas during the period were N950,000 and N1 million respectively.
These rents had since increased by more than 50 percent across the state since the end of 2021.
The real estate developers, many of whom are operating illegally, are exploiting the housing problems in the country, particularly in Lagos, to their advantage.
The huge cost of new accommodation and other factors have now put the tenants at the mercy of the landlords who in turn come up with measures either to frustrate them out of the property in order to attract new tenants and the associated benefits or to squeeze out extra cash through rent increase.
Things to avoid while signing tenancy agreement
There are several pitfalls that tenants or house-seekers must aware while signing agreements with landlords or property managers
· Guide against provisions or clauses that gives landlords the liberty to increase rents at intervals.
Although rent increase is not illegal, the Lagos Tenancy Law 2011 stipulates how the rents could be increased by landlords.
· Sharing of utility bills. This constantly puts tenants at loggerheads with their landlords particularly on who controls the process. Therefore, you have to ensure that your bills carry your name or are linked to your apartment in order to get a clearer picture of the service you are paying for.
· Outrightly reject any provisions that give the landlord unrestricted access to your apartment.
Most times, landlords use such an opportunity to evaluate their tenants for their personal interest.
· Avoid a break clause in the tenancy agreement. This clause provides both parties the opportunity to terminate the agreement before the fixed date.
· Guide against provisions absolving the landlord of any liability for any damage caused either by his negligence or carelessness.
Steps to resolving landlord-tenant disputes…
As a landlord, disagreements are inevitable and one must be fully prepared for whatever comes with such a status.
Such preparedness will enable you to devise approaches in resolving disputes with tenants instead of allowing matters to degenerate.
There are some basic steps that ultimately remedy a dispute if diligently applied.
· Check your temperament
Stay calm as much as possible irrespective of the provocation. Don’t throw caution to the wind and allow tempers to fly even if your tenant does.
· Be abreast of the law
Understanding what the law says and the penalty for the breach will help you to put your temper in check and stay out of trouble.
· Talk between both parties
A one-on-one discussion will thoroughly resolve issues between the aggrieved parties.
· A face-to-face meeting
A face-to-face meeting in neutral territory where both parties will feel safe, especially after the exchange of angry words on phone or email will calm frayed nerves and help to resolve issues amicably.
· Approach a mediator
If all efforts to resolve the conflict failed, then a professional mediator will be helpful in that regard.
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