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OPINION

Re: Landlord Vs Tenants: The Other Narrative

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By Abdul DanHassan –

The issue of landlord and tenants in Nigeria will continue to linger on until a satisfactory balance of fairness and justice is instituted and enforced in the relationship. Like most things in Nigeria, the issue is on autopilot and left to market forces with no adequate attention and regulation. The laws, and regulations, and the procedures and enforcements, all seem to have become part of the problems. They seem not to promote the fairness and justice they are intended to regulate and enforce. They instead seem to promote the contrary. The consequence is that the tenancy market is laden with tales and cases of defaults in tenancy rent payments, and the attendant disharmony it engenders.

There is probably no landlord that is not saddled with tenancy rent defaults, tenant’s delinquency, or outright tenant’s fraudulence. The market is getting saturated with fake tenants, who rent properties outside their payment capacity. After the first tenancy payment they become deliberately unable and unwilling to make subsequent payments as and when due. While the diminshed capacity of others render them incapable of paying, most of such will not respect themselves and the common decency of the intentment of law to honour their contractual agreement and vacate as and when due. They would rather remain in the property illegally, and unfortunately even seeking the help and protection of the law they disrespect and violate with serial impunity. All effort to get the peculiarly criminally minded ones to honorably pay up or vacate peacefully, is often met with stubborn arrogance and the exhibition of criminal antics and temperaments etc.

In states where there is the rent tribunals, the proceduces and deliberate patience of the processes tend to be unduly accomodating of a clearly defaulting tenant with no clear means or intent of paying up. In Abuja where there are curiously no rent tribunals, the cases are heard by the regular courts, with all the attendant liabilities. The spartan patience of the courts/tribunals to clearly established cases of blatant violation of the rights of the landlord and the law, is more skewed in favour of the  defaulting tenant than respecting and enforcing the legal rights of the landlord. In some cases they even exercebate the situation by allowing the defaulting tenant to remain in a property he has not paid for several years in some cases, while the case drags on rather endlessly. The offended landlord is restricted by law from recovering his property from an obviously hardened habitual tenancy fraudster who has no capacity to pay, but uses the respite of the court processes as a refuge.

In most of such cases the eventual net losses of the landlord is often more than the restitution of the courts/tribunals, if and when they eventually come. Thus the operations of the law, and the courts/tribunals are aggregately in favour of the defaulting tenants. They hardly mete out fairness and justice in favour of the just, in reasonable time. And justice delayed is justice denied. In Nigeria who cares, what matters here is that the ‘wheel of justice moves slowly but surely’. But the slowness often emboldens and gives respite to the offender, to the detriment of the offended.

It is in this context that landlords and their agents often get provoked by the remorseless antics of dubious tenants who relish in the inefficacy of the law that has practically and unfortunately become a sanctuary for them. In this guise the law seems to unwittingly be helpful to criminal tendencies of dubious and even outrightly fraudulent tenants. This is often the primary cause why landlords and agents adopt other extra legal means and forceful methods to eject habitually defaulting tenants, to promptly recover their often vandalised properties, and to cut their losses.

A classic case is one tenant Chief Jones in Abuja, who had serially defaulted with few unpaid millions in backlog of rent of about 3years. The court case lasted for nearly a year. Towards the end of the trial, the tenant hatched a plan to quietly abscond from the compound, when he knew that neither the landlord nor the agent will be in town. When he brought in a truck to move out his scanty properties, the agent got wind of it and rushed back to town in time to catch him in the act. The agent promptly locked up the main gate trapping the loaded truck within the compound, and rushed to fetch the police from the nearest police station. The police was of no help since he couldn’t stop nor arrest a fleeing debtor tenant commiting an obvious crime, other than taking his statement with his intended destination address.!! The agent couldn’t keep the loaded truck ‘detained’ in the compound because that will be ‘illegal’. Just imagine. The police law agent had to allow a fraudulent fleeing debtor who was clearly ‘arrested’ in the act, to flee because the law itself allows him that escape window.

When the judgement eventually came in favour of the landlord, the fleeing tenant couldn’t be traced in his new location. He had expectedly absconded further afield, obviously far from the enforcement capability of the court. The fraudulent tenant apparently got away successfully, leaving the landlord with an unenforceable judgement.!!

Another lady tenant in Kubwa, who had enjoyed the moderate tenancy rate of the landlord for long, decided to decieve the agent while travelling abroad that her daughters were to occupy the house in her absence, and she paid the usual fare of N350k only to be discovered that she actually sublet it to another lady at N450k and flew abroad.!!

Such is the situation that characterises the landlord-tenants relationship. It breeds lawlessness by encouraging bad behaviour in tenants who easily get away with such bad behaviours. This has also encouraged the landlords and agents to resort to the self help  bad behaviour too in recovering their properties from bad tenants by forcefully ejecting them as a more effective/efficient method.

The dominant narrative on the issue is often the ‘cruelty’ of landlords and their agents. The whole truth is much more than that, and the law is too inadequate in its support for the whole truth, and the alternate narrative. Thus the tribunals must be reoriented to dispense swift and meaningful justice, and to generate lots of revenue for government. Lots of revenues are lost in default, unpaid and unpayable lost rent dues. The re-jigged rent tribunals should give swift judgements and efficient/effective sanctions and scrupulous enforcements from which they can retain administrative fee/charge of 5% of all recovered rent recoveries and defaults. This will stop such default rent revenue losses and boost revenue for government. This will sanitise the system for good by instilling good behaviour on both sides.

But why is Abuja still without a rent tribunal anyway.?

– DanHassan, wrote in from Abuja.

 


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