By Jude Njoku & Charles Kumolu
Miss Pep Umeh, 27, who hails from Imo State came to Lagos five years ago. She lived with some friends in a multi-tenanted building popularly known in the Lagos parlance as ”face-me-I-face-you” or face-me-and- face-trouble” in the overcrowded Lagos Island Business District.
The discomfort she grappled with in the one-room accommodation, compelled Miss Umeh to look for an alternative accommodation that would also enable her to bring her younger siblings to Lagos.
She registered with about three estate agents to assist her in the search for a room in the Island because of its proximity to her place of work. She was later offered a room in a building that could be likened to a barracks.
But the snag came when the caretaker demanded for a rent of N60,000 per annum (five thousand monthly). Besides, Miss Umeh was asked to pay for three years up-front with an additional N80,000 as agency and agreement fee which summed up to a staggering N260,000.
The plight of Miss Umeh also applies to many tenants who are subjected toame in Lagos on daily basis. The situation has led to massive homelessness (with many living under bridges and in abandoned vehicles) and overcrowding especially in slummy neighbourhoods.
Mr John Maigamu, a Grade level 10 civil servant who was transferred to Lagos from Kaduna recounted his ordeal in search of a decent shelter. According to him, he was asked to pay over a million Naira for a three-bedroom apartment whereas he paid about N200,000 annually for a similar accommodation in Kaduna.
“My brother, this Lagos is tough; what this rent means is that I will give all my earnings annually to the landlord. I cannot live in public compound because I am not used to it,” he said.
For people like Miss Umeh and Maigamu, the new Lagos State tenancy law would be a very welcome development. But fears are rife that the law would go the same way the 1997 Rent Control Edict promulgated by the administration of Brigadier-General Buba Marwa went. That law could not be enforced because, as estate surveyors and valuers put it, you cannot control what you don’t have.
Nigeria is believed to have a housing shortfall of about 17 million units. Although the housing deficit in Lagos is not known, experts believe that it will take the largest chunk of the shortfall.
Experts fault the proposed law
Although most Lagos residents have applauded the proposed law, professionals comprising estate surveyors and valuers, developers and property lawyers have different opinions.
They do no think that the law is enforceable. Reason? You cannot control what you don’t have. We are living in a city where the demand for housing far outweighs the supply.
In other words, the rent payable on a house cannot be determined by the government since they (government) didn’t build the houses for the owners. Lagos, according to the experts, has failed to deliver on the provision of affordable housing; rather they have concentrated on building for the upper income group.
“What is desirable is for government to commence the development of social rental housing on a massive scale,” image maker of the Lagos State branch of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, NIESV, Mr Sola Enitan said. According to him, the Fashola administration should build houses for the poor and not dabble into tenancy issues”.
Recalling the failure of previous edicts, Enitan queried: “What has government achieved by the rent edict? We all know there is rent edict but nobody obeys the law. This is part of government’s insincerity to the citizens it governs,”Enitan submitted.
Continuing, he said, “As long as land remains scarce and limited in supply and interest rates are controlled by market dynamics, landlords and developers will continue to ask for multiple years rent up-front. He called for a review of the lending policy on real estate”.
It is undesirable for any law to stipulate advance rental payment where government itself has not made sufficient input into the market.
We are by the tenancy law making ourselves to look stupid in the eyes of the civilised world. Until government puts the right people in the housing ministry, they will continue to chase shadows.
From what I gathered, the governor has not given assent to the bill, I trust he will consult widely before signing it into law. On the legal front, the law is fundamentally flawed as it negates the constitutional right of Nigerians to investment protection; property is investment and the pay-back period of real estate will be hampered by this law.
Anyway, it does not cover leases, so all tenancies will disappear from the market, the poor will suffer rather than succeed by this law, he posited.
Housing is about demand and supply
A former Secretary of Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Dele Adeshina also doubted the practicability of the proposed tenancy law. The Property lawyer, argued that it will be difficult for the law to be effective since housing is about demand and supply.
“It will be difficult for the law to be effective; I have strong doubts because housing is about demand and supply. If a landlord says two years and many people want the house, the desperate prospective tenants will compromise and that person will not disclose what transpired between him and the landlord.
So many things will happen undetected,”he said,adding that, “what do you expect in an economy that bad, where a bag of cement goes for over N2,000.”
“What is the government doing to alleviate the housing problems in a country where building materials are very much on the high side?”Adeshina, who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN asked.
Despite these hard knocks from the former NBA Scribe, he cautioned against flouting the law when it takes effect. “I will say that the House of Assembly has the constitutional powers to make laws in this state. And if the House has passed a bill and says any disobedience of that law constitutes an offence, then it becomes an offence. When you look at the criminal code, there is a law on bigamy. The law prohibits a man or a woman from being married to more than one living person at a time. The crime attracts a seven-year jail term. How many people have been convicted for this offense. The law only exists in breach,” he said.
Provisions of the new tenancy law
All laws dealing with tenancy in Nigeria have been titled in favour of the tenant and the current legislation is not an exception. According to the bill titled “a law to regulate rights and obligations under tenancy agreement and the relationship between landlord and the tenant including the procedure for the recovery of premises and for other connected purposes in Lagos State,” any landlord in Lagos State who collects rent in excess of one year in advance from a new tenant would be prosecuted by the state government and upon conviction face three years in jail.
The legislation which is awaiting Governor Fashola’s assent, stipulates that it is unlawful and criminal for a landlord or his agent to demand or receive from a sitting tenant, rent in excess of six months in respect of any premises without prejudice to the nature of tenancy.
What this implies is that those who are already tenants are not expected to pay more than six months in advance to their landlord.
The bill stipulates a fine of N100,000 or three years imprisonment on any landlord or new tenant who pays in excess of one year and N100,000 or three months imprisonment for any landlord who fails to issue a receipt to a tenant for payment of rent.
Furthermore, “it shall be unlawful for a sitting tenant to offer or pay rent in excess of one year for a yearly tenant in respect of any premises and any person who receives or pays rent in excess of what is prescribed by the law shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a fine of N100,000.”
The bill consists of 47 sections The bill consists of 47 sections, including jurisdiction of the courts, obligations of the tenant, obligations of the landlord, length of notice, services of notice, among others.
It spelt out the relationship between the landlord and tenant and allocates rights and privileges to both parties. Under the law, a tenant is entitled to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the premises, which include privacy, freedom from unreasonable disturbance, noise pollution and nuisance, as well as exclusive possession of the premises, subject to the landlord’s restricted right of inspection.
According to the new law, a landlord must send a written letter to a tenant whenever he wants to visit the apartment for inspection. Such letter must state the time the inspection is to be conducted in order to give the tenant ample time to prepare for the exercise.
The law also gives a tenant the privilege to furnish or install accessories within a property to fit his/her taste.
It would be recalled that the bill which was earlier passed by the House and sent to Governor Fashola was assent was returned to the assembly with a recommendation by the governor that some grey areas be looked into. Such grey areas included who bears the professional fees incurred at the commencement of tenancy and some other sections that cover the internally generated revenue of the state.
The amended bill states that the landlord would be responsible for “professional fees or commission of the landlord’s agent, consultant, solicitor or any other person acting for and on behalf of the landlord, incurred at the commencement of the tenancy.”
Previous efforts at controlling rent failed
Prior to 1997, arbitrary rent increases, unlawful ejection of tenants, lengthy and unending litigation between landlords and tenants were rampant in Lagos. This trend precipitated the promulgation of the 1997 rent control and recovery of residential premises edict in the state.
Under the 1997 law, only the court can order the eviction of tenants. The court process was unusually slow and cumbersome and this prompted landlords to adopt when lawyers call jankara (unorthodox) approach to evict tenants. This involved the use of phony legal cases, intimidation, locking out tenants, and physically throwing them of their property.
The 1997 rent law promulgated by Brigadier-General Buba Marwa’s administration, demarcated Lagos into 11 zones with different rates per zone along variations of dwelling units into 12 types.
It set the minimum rent for a single room unit at between N75 and N650.00. The edict then made it illegal for any landlord or landlady to demand an advance payment in excess of six months for a room and parlour unit, otherwise such a landlord is liable to a three-month jail term or N30, 000.00 fine for illegal or forceful ejection of a tenant.