Special Report

April 28, 2012

Lagos State Tenancy Law: Simply not working

The age long conflict between landlords and tenants causing a frosty relationship between both parties most probably underscored the enactment of the Lagos State Tenancy Law.

In signing the Lagos State Tenancy Bill 2011 passed by the State Assembly into law, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola had said that law started as an executive bill in Government’s efforts to find solutions to some “prohibitive practices in the letting and leasing of insufficient residential accommodation’ and this generated different discussions and deliberations in the State Executive Council which was made up of landlords, tenants and lawyers including the state governor.

The myth of invincibility surrounding the landlord was expected to be shattered by the tenancy law. The landlord was for a long time seen as someone impossible to defeat or prevent from doing what he intended to do, right or wrong against his tenant. Fashola had reminded the people that property owners are privileged when compared to tenants.

“This law seeks change like is done in all decent societies by asking the privileged to sacrifice a little so that the underprivileged can have a survival chance. It seeks to protect the poor and underprivileged.”

Saturday Vanguard investigation however has shown that there had not been reported cases of testing the law to know  if  it’s working, or its enforcement since existence several months ago.

Lagos State Tenancy Law: Simply not working

Even when we can say that the exploited and marginalised citizenry need the law which to a large extent meets the expectation of the people, yet nothing has so far been achieved in terms of succour to the embattled tenants. Both landlords and tenants have undermined the tenancy law.

The questions asked are: Is government enforcing the law, putting adequate monitoring mechanism in place? Does government use the tenancy law to blindfold the people, most of whom are tenants and therefore shying away from its responsibility to provide affordable shelter to all? What about the fear of intimidation, harassment, eviction if the tenants are to challenge the landlords in a tenancy dispute? Is the tenancy law not a political gimmick and government is simply playing to the gallery?

The law was expected to regulate rights and obligations under tenancy agreements and the relationship between landlords and tenants whilst also stipulating the procedure for the recovery of premises, according to the explanation of Mr. Ade Ipaye, Lagos State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General.

The law applies to business and residential premises in Lagos State, except those premises which are specifically exempted.

The governor can extend this exemption to other properties or areas by executive order, while parties will not be allowed to side step the courts by agreement, but may choose methods of alternative dispute resolution such as the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse or Citizens Mediation Centre.

Exempted are properties in Apapa, Ikeja GRA, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, hospitals, emergency homes, residential premises owned or operated by educational institutions for staff and students.

Rights and privileges as a tenant under the Tenancy Law are clearly spelt out; the tenant’s duty towards his landlord and rights of the landlord also are contained in the document.

For the purposes of this law, a tenancy agreement exists where premises are granted by the landlord to a person for value whether or not it is expressed or implied, oral or in writing, or partly oral or party written or for a fixed period.

It shall be unlawful for a landlord or his agent to demand or receive from a sitting tenant to offer or pay rent in excess of three months in respect of any premises. Any person who receives or pays rent in excess of what is prescribed shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a fine of N100,000.00) or to three months imprisonment or any other non-custodial disposition.

All landlords of premises, upon payment of rent by the tenants, is obliged to issue a rent payment receipt, stating date of which rent was received, name of the landlord and tenant, amount paid, location of the premises, period to which the payment relates.

Any landlord who fails to issue a rent payment receipt to his tenant, shall be liable to a fine of N10,000.00 payable to the court. The tenant is entitled to reasonable privacy, freedom from unreasonable disturbance, exclusive possession of the premises, subject to the landlord’s restricted right of inspection.

Where a tenant with the previous consent in writing of the landlord, effects improvements on the premises and the landlord determines the tenancy, such a tenancy shall be entitled to claim compensation for the effected improvements on quitting the premises.

Obligations of the landlord include not to disturb the tenant’s quiet and peaceable enjoyment of the premises, pay all rates and charges as stipulated by law, keep he premises insured against loss or damage, not to seize or interfere with the tenant’s access to his personal property, not to terminate or restrict a common facility or service for the use of the premises, effect repairs and maintain the external and common part of the premises.

As regards to re-entry, upon breach of the conditions in respect of the premises; the landlord has the right to institute proceedings for an order to re-enter and determine the tenancy.

Length of notice to determine the tenancy are a week’s notice for a tenant at will; one month for a monthly tenant; three months notice for a quarterly tenant; three months for a half-yearly tenant; and six months for a yearly tenant.

A tenant cannot be asked to pay commission, agency or legal fees to the landlord’s agent or lawyer. The landlord who hires these professionals is the one to pay their fees and commission.

A landlord can take his tenant who owes more than six months rents to court to recover the house from him without issuing him a quit notice.

A landlord cannot forcefully eject a tenant from his house or attempt to do so by removing the roof or doors of the house. If he does so, he will be liable to six months imprisonment or a fine of N250,000.00. A landlord or his agent cannot demand from a new tenant rent of more than one year. If a landlord refuses to collect rent, the tenant can pay it to the court who in turn will give the money to the landlord after collecting 10% from the money.

If the landlord increases the rent, tenant can challenge the increase in court by asking for a review.