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Lagos tenancy law: Still in need of enforcement
When Lagos State government signed the Tenancy Act 2011 into law, many, especially prospective and sitting tenants were full of hope that the days of misery in the hands of shylock landlords would soon be over.
However, 18 months after the law was passed, no practical proof has shown that it is achieving anything.
Findings by National Mirror revealed that landlords and tenants continue to engage in a cat and mouse relationship. For example, no landlord, caretaker, agent or tenant has been indicted or prosecuted on account of the law.
The law has not only failed to ease accommodation problems in the state, it has also been unable to check sky rocketing rents and excessive advance payment by tenants and prospective ones respectively.
But for its lack of enforcement, the Act with 47 sections has many provisions in the area of advance payment, forceful ejection of a sitting tenant and illegal occupation of any property within the ambience of the law, which can check the greed of shylock landlords, or curb the antics of recalcitrant tenants as the case maybe.
For instance, section four of the Act, which made provisions for advance payments, stated in sub-section 1 to 3 as follows: “It shall be unlawful for a landlord or his agent to demand or receive from a sitting tenant, rent in excess of three months in respect of any premises.
“It shall be unlawful for a sitting tenant to offer or pay rent in excess of three months in respect of any premises.”
As penalty for violation of the rules, the section further provides that: “Any person who receives or pays rent in excess of what is prescribed in this section, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a fine of one hundred thousand naira (N100,000.00) or to three months imprisonment or any other non-custodial disposition.”
The above section appeared to be the hallmark of the law, since it tries to mitigate the plight of tenants, head on. Information gathered, attests that advance payments remain the most exploited and abused by most landlords as some of them are in the habit of demanding up to two years advance rents from their tenants.
A tenant living at Isolo, a suburb of Lagos, Mr. Chidinma Ngozi, said his landlord demanded for and collected two years advance rent from him when he wanted to move into his apartment on Kogberegbe Street, and that after the rent was due in March 2012, he offered to pay a year rent but the landlord refused, saying he needed money to carry out renovation works on the building and that if he was unwilling to pay for another two years, he should vacate the house.
“I had no option; I had to borrow from friends to make up the amount demanded by the landlord. I eventually paid for one and a half years. I did so because it is very stressful searching for another accommodation in any area in Lagos.
“The landlord has nothing to lose. If I leave the premises, he would quickly get another person willing to pay the rent demanded, including so- called “Agreement fees” and other obnoxious charges.”
Ngozi said, he is aware of the extant tenancy law forbidding sitting tenants to pay more than three months advance rent, but queried that if he complained to the appropriate authorities, will they follow through with prosecution, or even provide him with alternative accommodation? should the landlord insist he pays more than is stipulated by the law?
Another tenant in Ketu Area, Anthony Modupe, said he never bothered to study provisions of the law, arguing that as far as there are more prospective tenants than available houses, the law of demand and supply would hold the upper hand as landlords will naturally go for the highest bidder.
Anthony said, “The government is performing its administrative task by enacting the law, but that can be of very little effect in solving the housing problems in Lagos. In as far as there are more prospective tenants seeking for accommodation, the law is bound to fail. Is it not better to stay where you are than fight with your landlord and risk being evicted or even paying higher rent somewhere else”?
Many people cannot afford better accommodation due to high cost of rent and would want to remain at the mercy of their landlords to avoid paying another agency and agreement fee.
Most landlords and their agents serve tenants quit notice a month or two before the expiration date of your rent. Naturally, since they have not built their own house, they will usually run to the caretaker or the landlord to probably plead with them so that they can retain their tenancy.
“In the process, you may find yourself entering into another round of negotiation with them and as usual, they will let you know that if you want to retain your tenancy, you have to pay for a year or two. This actually happened to a friend at Ikotun area. What can you do? How can the law help you? In fact you will be the one begging, they don’t need to force you to pay excessive advance rent.” Findings have revealed that agency fees in many parts of Lagos is from 10 to 20 per cent of the agreement fee, albeit, some have fixed the agency fees which ranged from N20,000 and N30,000.
A caretaker at Ikeja area of Lagos, who spoke on condition of anonymity, gave the following insight into their exploitative activities:
“The agency fee is mainly for the agent while agreements are usually shared between the landlord and the agent. The logic is the higher the rent, the higher the fee that accrues to both of them, especially when calculation is based on percentage. That is why you see many people are becoming overnight agents, but we are trying to sanitize it. We now have an association and we are compelling everyone to register so that the industry can be regulated.”
Findings revealed that on an average, a flat goes for N300, 000 per annum in many parts of Lagos State. If an agent gets 20 per cent as agency fee on a twoyear rent payment, the agent pockets N120, 000. For their selfish ends, agents are fond of assuring their contracting landlords that they can help them get a good tenant who is ready to pay two or three years advance rent.
A landlord at Ikeja who identified himself as Adeleke Joseph said: “How can government that has no housing provision for the low income earners be fixing house rent? Let the government make provision for low income earners so they can become house owners and landlords will be forced to lower their rent.
Let me tell you the truth, the bill is a mere deceit of the masses to believe that they are looking after their interests because it cannot achieve anything with the present situation where there are few houses for too many people. If the government is sincere, let it start by build affordable houses for the masses.”
Another landlord in Ikorodu area, Chief Akeem Olorunlologo, accused the Lagos State Government of playing a hide and seek game, saying the government should have known that mere laws without adequate provision to solve the housing problem in Lagos cannot help the people.
“Why can’t we tackle the source of the problem first? Housing in Lagos poses enormous challenge to all and sundry. To start with, securing a land in Lagos is like fighting for heaven; it’s a tug of war because the cost of land runs into millions of naira.
Building is another problem especially with “omo-onile” syndrome and many other militating factors. There is no way one will face the troubles of acquiring land, spend millions to put up a structure and somebody is coming to tell you what to do with your property. At worst, the tenant will go his way while I hold on to my property,” Chief Akeem concluded.
Chief Akeem said, if landlords are forced to dancing to the tune of the law, the consequence might even be more frustrating as landlords may inflate their rents so much so that a year’s rent might be offered for a six-month rent period.
For evidence based prosecution, the Tenancy Act had in section 5 provided that a valid receipt must be issued to tenants for whatever payment made. The section provides that as from the commencement of the Law; “all landlords of premises shall upon payment of rent by the tenants, be obliged to issue a rent payment receipt to their tenants in respect of such payments.
The receipt shall state the date of which rent was received; name of the landlord and the tenant, location of premises in respect of which the rent is paid, amount of rent paid and period to which the payment relates. Any landlord who fails to issue a rent payment receipt to his tenant as prescribed under this Section shall be liable to a fine of ten thousand Naira (N10,000.00) payable to the Court.”
Other articulated aspects of the law can be found in section 44 which provides for offences and penalties as follows:
“Subject to the provisions of the Law; any person who demolishes, alters or modifies a building to which this law applies with a view to ejecting a tenant and without the approval of the Court; or any person who in respect of any premises – attempts to forcibly eject or forcibly ejects a tenant; threatens or molests a tenant by action or words, with a view to ejecting such tenant; or willfully damages any premises, shall be guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine of up to two hundred and fifty thousand Naira (N250,000:00) or up to six (6) months imprisonment and any other non-custodial disposition.
On the other hand, the law provides the following in section 44 subsection 4 against errant tenant.
“Any tenant who deprives the landlord of any premises under this Law by intentionally providing false information shall be guilty of an offence and liable under the Criminal Law.
“Without prejudice to any criminal proceedings, where - “(i) Any landlord has obtained an order of possession of premises under this Law and upon an application made by summons by the tenant, the court is satisfied that such order was obtained by intentionally providing false information; the court shall order the landlord to pay reasonable compensation to such tenant; and “(ii) The tenant has deprived the landlord of premises under this Law and upon an application made by summons by the landlord, the court is satisfied that the landlord was so deprived by the tenant intentionally providing false information; the court shall order the tenant to pay reasonable compensation to such landlord.”
However, since both landlords and tenants are acting in a manner that undermines the law, the above provisions appear worthless.
When National Mirror spoke with the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr.Ade Ipaye, on the enforcement of the law, the commissioner emphasised the reliance of government on complaints and reports brought before it by the people.
He said the government can only investigate what is reported to its mediation centre, established to listen and investigate people’s complaints, saying since there is dearth of complaint, the government is handicapped.
Ipaye said: “Nobody has been convicted on account of the law because there have been few complaints which are usually settled before they get to court. Usually, what the mediation centre does with the complaints or reports it received week in week out is to mediate between the landlord and the tenant in dispute.
So the centre is more effective in the area of mediation and settlement of disputes between landlords and tenants rather than prosecution.
We rely on reports from the people and we encourage them to come up with reports. It is when we have such reports that we can carry out investigations and follow up with actions based on the outcome of the investigations; otherwise there is nothing we can do.”
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