By Akhigbe Dominic M.
18 JULY, 2016-My first rented apartment was close to two decades ago. Fresh from school and with a clear determination for self dependence; I bid goodbye to my elder brother’s house and opted for an apartment somewhere around Ogba Area, a suburb in Lagos then. I remembered paying all payables including Commission, Agreement fee and Agency among others. I lived in that house for about five years; I never saw a copy of the Tenancy Agreement for one day. Every other tenant that came after me paid the same and none was given an Agreement to execute. Else where, the story was the same. It was just a ritual to pay for Agreement that you would never see or execute. It was simply a faster way for the Landlords AND Property Agents to make more money off the tenants without additional value. This however started to change as the days went bye and tenants started to be more aware of the infallibility of the tenancy Agreement.
It is very important to note that the Property Agents got away with such sharp practice then as there were far fewer contentions between Landers and tenants then. The economy was friendlier. People could easily swap their accommodations at the slightest provocation. Far more number of people was actually building their personal houses then. I remembered the first Room and Parlor I rented was actually vacant for close to one year after the initial occupant moved out of it in anger because the landlord’s daughter spoke to him rudely and the Landlord didn’t reprimands her hard enough. This was how easy it was then. Today; this has changed. The Rural-Urban migration has put Housing need under severe pressure. The inability of the Government to come up with an effective solution to curtail the deepening Housing chaos is also an aggravating factor. Demand far outstrips supply. Landlords and tenants are building up very sophisticated strategies to sustain their various ends of the bargain. Over the years, it has been conflict and more conflict between the landlord and the tenant. This has made the dare need for professionally drafted and executed Tenancy Agreement more sacrosanct in today’s tenancy.
If you have taken a visit to any of our Law Courts of late, you would marvel at the number of Landlord-Tenant Matters that are before them. From the Magistrates to the High Courts, the story is the same. The question on the lips of everyone is; must disputes between Landlords and Tenants end up in courts? The answer to this question is not far-fetched. ‘When the foundation is destroyed; what shall the righteous do?’ this is a rhetorical question from the holy book. The relationship that eventually degenerates into litigations at some point started very cordially. As time went bye, parties misunderstood each other. Issues came up; effort to resolve such were to no avail, then the last resort is the court of law. This is the tale of the Landlord-Tenant relationship.
It is a clear fact that most Landlord-Tenant relationship is consummated on the grounds of ‘trust’. There is always this assumption that issues would not come up. By the time issues do arise; the parties are found wanting and they result to all sort of dirty strategies to outwit each other.
I however find something very puzzling on the consummation of Landlord-Tenant relationship. Usually, when the tenant is coming in; the Landlord or Agent collects all sorts of collectables including Agency and Agreement fees. In most cases, it ends there. There is usually no Agreement to execute. The tenant moves into the apartment without any form of Contract except that he is aware of when his rent is to be renewed. Soon after, issues start raring their heads. Very common among such is the inordinate desire by the landlord to increase his rent inappropriately, collect rents in advance in excess of what the tenancy law regulates (in states that have such), collect Electricity and Security fees in a most unscrupulous manner and in very ridiculous instances; some take a step further to start asking Annual Tenants to pay Land Use. All of these crop up because the tenant that pays the Tenancy Agreement fee never bothers to ask for it. For those that have the Tenancy Agreement; they would have spent months in the rented apartments before the Agreement are brandished on their faces to sign immediately. If such Agreement comes with punitive provisions; the Tenant is left with little or no options as they already would have moved into the Apartment so rented.
In March this year; a friend badge into my office with a Quit Notice from his Landlord. I asked if he owed; he answered in the negative. He went ahead to show me payment receipts for Services some of which, according to him were not even rendered by the Landlord. I requested to see the Tenancy Agreement which he had with him. I noticed the Agreement was very fresh and neat. Before I could probe further, he said the Agreement got to him just a month before the Quit Notice was served on him. I took time to peruse the Tenancy Agreement. To my consternation, I discovered a provision that empowers the landlord to promptly vacate him and re-enter the Apartment should he fail to renew his rent Three Months to the expiration of a subsisting rent. I asked if he saw this before he signed, he said the landlord’s counsel badge into him on a particular Monday morning while he was already late for work. He requested to retain the Agreement to enable him peruse the same, then sign and return same auspiciously. According to him, the Counsel enjoined him to just sign as there was nothing there, since the Lawyer had extended initial goodwill; he went ahead to sign. This was how he was hoodwinked into such a very arbitrary Agreement that seems to outlaw his guaranteed rights. I called the landlord to bring to his notice the illegality of his Notice to Quit and the need to abandon such illegality. The reaction of the Landlord was very unimaginable. It showed that he was totally oblivious of the Lagos State Tenancy Law, 2011 or he just chose to be lawlessly latching on the total ignorance of the tenant. In the days to come; I will x-ray a functional Tenancy Agreement. Meanwhile, if you must rent that next Agreement, get a lawyer to peruse the Agreement before you append your signature.
Akhigbe is a consultant in Real Estate & an investment portfolio manager and a seasoned Nigerian Micro, Small & Medium Scale Business Coach. Contact:08034846284