Every state in Nigeria has legislative provisions which regulate the law of landlord and tenant to encourage a sustainable and healthy relationship between them. The Tenancy law of Lagos State 2011 will be our reference point essentially because of the cosmopolitan and complex nature of Lagos State. Though the tenancy agreement is the contractual document which stipulates the rights and responsibilities of both parties, there are some basic fundamental rights that remain sacrosanct and cannot be excluded from the tenancy agreement by either of the parties. These rights include the following:
THE RIGHT TO QUIET AND PEACEABLE ENJOYMENT OF THE LEASED PROPERTY:
Foremost, it is an inalienable right of a tenant to enjoy complete privacy, freedom from unreasonable disturbances and exclusive possession of the leased property to the exclusion of the landlord and all others. In addition to these rights, it is unlawful for your landlord to seize any item or property that belongs to you, interfere with your access to the rented premises, terminate, or restrict the use of facilities or services that are provided in common to all occupiers.
THE RIGHT TO THE RECEIPT OF PAYMENT:
it is very crucial that you demand for your receipt upon the payment of your rent immediately. Asides the fact that it is statutorily mandatory that the landlord provides the receipt to you, it is of prime importance that you request for it for record purposes. In situations where disputes arise concerning when your rent was paid and how much was paid, the receipt will be the final evidence to be relied upon by the court. Further, if you live in a serviced apartment, your landlord or his agent has a duty to issue a separate receipt for the payments received for service charges asides the rent receipt. A written account must also be rendered at least every six (6) months of how monies paid by tenants were disbursed. Failure to provide a receipt is criminal and punishable by a fine of One hundred thousand naira.
THE RIGHT TO A PROPER NOTICE:
While it is an inalienable right of the landlord to recover his premises from a tenant, it is imperative that the legal procedure must be followed by issuing an adequate notice of termination. What is an adequate notice is however subjective to what was agreed upon by both parties in the tenancy agreement at the inception of the tenancy. Statutory notice will only be enforceable if the tenancy agreement is silent on the length of notice required by either party. The statutory notice is that for yearly tenants, a six months notice will be required while a three months notice is required for a half yearly and a quarterly tenant. Further, a month’s notice is required for a monthly tenant. So, if you agreed with your landlord that the required notice for your eviction shall be a month’s notice despite being a yearly tenant, it will be binding on you. The statutory notice will not be applicable and the court will enforce it.
Thus, any notice which falls short of this statutory requirement in the absence of an agreed length of notice will be regarded as invalid and of no effect. The implication is that if the provision for the length of notice required for termination of the tenancy is not expressly stated in your tenancy agreement, the landlord cannot give a shorter notice than the ones stated above.
If upon the expiration of the quit notice, you fail to give up possession of the premises, the landlord is required to further issue a statutory seven day notice to the tenant before the matter is filed in court. This notice is the most crucial notice because it cannot be amended by either of the parties. The “Seven (7) days Notice of Owner’s Intention to Recover Premises” is a notice from a landlord notifying the tenant upon whom a “notice to quit” had been served and same had expired of his intention to proceed to court to recover the over- held premises.
RIGHT OF ONE YEAR ADVANCE PAYMENT:
Prior to the advent of the Lagos Tenancy law in 2011, the landlords had no restrictions regarding the advance of rent to be demanded from both existing and prospective tenants. It was totally at the discretion of the landlords. This meted untold economic hardship on the tenants especially the prospective tenants. To rectify this indiscriminate discretion, the 2011 has criminalised the payment of an advance rent in excess of one year. So, it is within your rights to decline to give your landlord in excess of a year’s rent because both the giver and receiver of the excessive rent are both liable and guilty of an offence. Any landlord who demands in excess of one year rent is criminally liable to three months imprisonment or a fine of One Hundred thousand naira.
RIGHT TO DEMANd FOR COMPENSATION:
It is a common occurrence that tenants perform noticeable improvements on a property while moving in as a new tenant or even as an existing tenant. This may including electrical wiring, repainting of the exterior of the premises, installation of new sanitary wares, installation of a new kitchen, re-roofing of the house and installation of borehole amongst other improvements. If you carried out such improvements on your leased property, you must be compensated by your landlord at the expiration of your tenancy. However, this right is only enforceable against the landlord if you had obtained a written consent from the landlord authorising you to carry out the improvements. If you carry out such improvements without the approval of your landlord, you will not be entitled to any compensation.
RIGHT TO REJECT UNREASONABLE INCREASE OF RENT:
The tenancy law of Lagos states expressly that an aggrieved tenant can approach the court for a downward review of a unilateral and arbitrary increase of his rent by his landlord. If the court is satisfied that the increase is unreasonable, the court may order that the increase in rent be reduced. This right is provided for by section 37 of the tenancy law. However, I am of the personal opinion that the tenant must seek to negotiate the perceived arbitrary increase in his rent before considering the option of the court. This premised on the fact that the legal process is a lengthy and expensive process which may not be economically viable.
RIGHT NOT TO BE UNLAWFULLY AND ILLEGALLY EJECTED:
The law out rightly criminalises the act of self help resorted to by any landlord to intimidate, oppress, subdue and unlawfully eject their tenant. The era of evicting tenants without the instrumentality of the law is over. Prior to 2011, it was prevalent amongst homeowners to forcefully evict their tenants by removing their roofs, doors, cutting their access to water supply and electricity amongst others unlawful acts. Section 44 of the tenancy law of Lagos state states that any person who demolishes, alters or modifies a building, or molests with a view to eject a tenant without the approval of the court is guilty of an offence and is liable to six month imprisonment or an option of fine of two hundred thousand naira.
Nevertheless of these rights stated above, the tenants also have corresponding obligations towards the landlord to ensure a balance in the relationship. The obligations area as enumerated below;
PAY YOUR RENT TIMELY:
The foremost duty of a tenant under the landlord and tenant law is that the tenant must pay his agreed rent and timely. The amount of the lease is always stipulated in the tenancy agreement. Unless, otherwise agreed by both parties, a rent is always due on the first day of the commencement of a periodic tenancy. Failure to pay your rent entitles your landlord to terminate the tenancy and recover possession.
Duty to avoid waste and maintain premises:
This simply means that the tenant is under a duty to keep the premises in a tenantable condition and avoid it falling into disrepair. The tenant has a duty to protect the premises from disintegrating and must not make significant structural changes to the property without prior approval from the landlord. However, minor repairs must be carried out for maintenance of the property. Tenants must also ensure timely and safe disposal of refuse. Plumbing, electrical and sanitary fixtures must also be maintained and must be put to their intended use.
THE DUTY TO ADHERE TO THE TENANCY AGREEMENT:
The tenancy agreement is a very vital document to the existence of the tenancy. The tenant is under a duty to obey all the terms contained in the agreement as they legally enforceable. A tenant’s failure to follow the terms of the lease he or she signed would be a breach of the lease. The contents of the lease may include the period of the tenancy, amount of rent to be paid, length of notice for termination amongst other clauses.
DUTY OF HONESTY OF INTENDED PURPOSE:
At the inception of the tenancy, if the premise was acquired for residential purposes, it should not be used for commercial purposes. If the property is used in a manner inconsistent with the original purpose, the landlord may terminate the tenancy.
RESPECTING OTHER NEIGHBORS’ PEACE AND QUIET
Tenants and any individuals they allow onto the premises have the obligation to refrain from disruptive behaviour and committing a nuisance. This could include refraining from playing loud music or from allowing children to run and scream around the property.
Duty to allow the landlord to enter the premise:
The tenant should permit the landlord or his agent reasonable access to the leased premises in order to carry out inspection or repairs. The Landlord must however give sufficient notice prior to day of such inspection. Further, if there is a need to carry out structural repairs on the property, you should not unreasonably withhold your consent.
DUTY NOT TO SUBLET AND USE THE PROPERTY FOR ILLEGAL PURPOSE:
Tenants must refrain from the transfer of the reversionary interest to a third person who was not a party to the lease unless the consent of the landlord is sought. Also the property should not used for illegal activities. This may include operating a brothel or drug cartel from the property. The landlord is under a duty to immediately terminate the tenancy and repossess his property.
In conclusion, I strongly advise that tenants should be aware of their rights but must also fully adhere to their corresponding obligations towards the landlord to ensure a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship.
Written by, Olamide Onifade, Senior partner, Olamide Onifade & Associates, 149, Ogudu road, Ogudu, Lagos. Email; email@example.com Telephone:0909 333 5636.