ON Thursday, August 25, 2011, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, signed the Tenancy and Lagos Parks and Gardens Bill into Law. It was aimed at regulating the relationship between landlords and tenants. While it curbs the excesses of landlords who prey on their tenants, it also reduces the antics of tenants, who fail to live up to their tenancy obligations.
The law provides that any landlord that collects more than a year’s rent from new tenants would be liable to three months imprisonment with the option of a N100,000 fine if convicted. Also, landlords, who impose and collect more than six months rents from their “sitting tenants” will, if convicted, go to jail for six moths. Furthermore, any landlord who forcibly or illegally ejects tenants from his abode will go to jail for six months when convicted, or pay a fine of N250,000.
At the signing ceremony, Governor Fashola made the following stirring statement: “Let us remember that property owners are privileged when compared to tenants. This law seeks change like it is done in all decent societies by asking the privileged to sacrifice a little so that the underprivileged can have a surviving change. This is the reason why this Bill has been commended even before it became a law. It seeks to protect the poor and the underprivileged. A society that cannot protect the underprivileged cannot protect the privileged.”
The good intention in this is all rather evident. The logic about protecting the underprivileged in order to secure the privileged is above faulting, morally and philosophically. But it needs to be borne in mind that it is not in all cases that landlords are more privileged economically than tenants. Some landlords are really very indigent, old or are inheritors of the property upon which they and other equally struggling members of the family depend for the rent they get from tenants.
It is this lower class of impoverished landlords that often resort to shylock antics to get more out of their property, thus victimising their tenants, even to the point of applying jankara (thuggery) to enforce their will. It is this class of people, who insist on multi-year payment, complete with “damage”, “agency”, “agreement”, “lawyers'” and other exploitative fees before letting new tenants take possession of their rented apartments. Most affluent and God-fearing landlords will not see much difference in collecting their money once in a year or twice.
The major fear over this law is implementation. Many tenancy laws have come and gone. Some were even done during military rule when it was easier to use force to extract compliance, but they did not make much impact. Even though the Raji Fashola government is often commended for its many acts of good governance, it is often weak in areas of implementation of certain laws. One of them is the law guiding the use of helmet and prohibiting the use of expressways by commercial motorcycle riders. Barely a few days after being signed into law, implementation was abandoned due to brazen acts of defiance by the motorcycle taxi operators.
With Lagos being a buyer’s market for commercial housing, it is left to be seen how many tenants will like to take their landlords through the legal distance when the demand game is on the landlord’s side. This is more so when the state and federal governments have failed woefully to provide alternatives to private estate developers, who control over 95 per cent of the property market in Lagos.
We call on landlords and tenants in the state to see the goodwill intended by the Fashola administration and voluntarily respect the spirit of this law. The most important thing in the relationship between landlords and tenants is not muscle-flexing and test of will or supremacy. Rather it is cooperation and mutual respect of rights and privileged of both sides.
It is like the marital institution. Whenever it becomes clear that both parties are no longer able to cohabit, it is better to part ways peacefully, as nobody has the monopoly of violence or evil. The intention of the Lagos State Government is that excesses on both sides should be moderated by law.
As law-abiding citizens, let us see it in this light rather than go out of our ways to prove it is unworkable. Government also needs to come out with an aggressive policy of massive development of affordable housing, while creating mortgage opportunities for more and more people to own houses.
When supply meets demand, equilibrium will be struck. Laws are then easier to implement.