The minister of works and housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, recently called on landlords and property owners to stop the practice of collecting payments for rents in advance of one year or more.
He told them to consider accepting monthly, quarterly or half-yearly rent from their tenants rather than the current practice of demanding full one-year, two-year and three-year rents from their tenants in advance.
He also urged state lawmakers to explore this area of tenant-landlord relations to enact legislation to check the long time practice, which, according to him, was worsening the country’s housing crisis.
At the last count, Nigeria housing deficit was put at 17 million, and urbanisation and high rent demand have contributed in making it difficult for the average Nigerian living and working in urban areas like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Enugu and other major cities to afford decent housing accommodation, especially as landlords take advantage of the surging population to put their properties beyond the reach of most.
For now, with the absence of legislation, Fashola has asked landlords to take it as a matter of voluntary action due to their moral suasions and conscience, because the government could not intervene directly to alleviate the burden of tenants as most of the houses available for sale or rent are under the control of private individuals or company developers.
He pointed out that due to the economic challenges that have attended the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government had given back to citizens some of the control it wields, in the same way he wants landlords and property owners to do same with their tenants to make accommodation more affordable, and that they can give back by accepting one-month, three-month or half-year rents as the case may be.
Fashola is right when he extrapolated that as long as salary earners receive monthly salaries but are expected to pay from one-year to three-year rent, the question of affordability will always arise and that it will continue to be a big burden on families, with a collateral effect on some landlords and property owners whose houses and properties lie fallow for several years due to the inability of most of those in need to afford the payment plan.
He said, “Most of the properties affected by this lack of occupation belong to private people, so government cannot go and take their properties, but I think, by persuasion , by intervention through state legislation, we can bridge some of this.” This legislative intervention, he expects will protect tenants from shylock landlords.
Fashola’s campaign for rent control did not start now. As governor of Lagos State, his administration enacted a legislation in 2011 which provisions forbade landlords from demanding from prospective tenants rent in excess of one year in advance; it also barred the new tenant from paying for more than a year in advance. Both will face punishment under the law.
In 2008, the Enugu State House of Assembly passed a law, The Landlord and Tenant Amendment Law “to reduce controversy between the landlord and the tenant in areas such as rent review, rent payment and forceful eviction.”
The law also forbade landlords from increasing rent without giving tenants two years of advance notice, in addition to the provision that the increment on the existing rent will not exceed 15 percent, among other provisions.
It seems that Fashola’s call is not cutting an ice with stakeholders of the built industry, comprising estate surveyors, real estate developers, mortgage finance providers and property lawyers, who argue that rent control attempts in the past had not worked, saying the laws were honoured more in the breach, and that it will create a pricing confusion which is anachronistic and contrary to the market economy of demand and supply.
President of Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Emmanuel Woke, in his reaction to Fashola, said the group would seek to meet with the minister to clear up the matter.
As a newspaper, we wish to align with the minister. There is no sector that should remain unlegislated, especially one that has such a central consequence to human life. All governments exist to protect the weak from the strong.Lagos and Enugu states have given others a template to work with, and improve upon.