Every adult at a particular time in life will get directly involved in real estate either through the acquisition of properties or rent. Finance or location of an individual at a particular time plays a pivotal role in determining which side of the divide individuals fall into at a given period. Due to the challenges of limited economic strength or urban migration, a high percentage of individuals choose the route of renting properties either for residential or commercial purposes. The Landlord and Tenant relationship is a common phenomenon in the society, hence, the intervention and regulation of the law.
Foremost, as a Tenant, the most significant feature of your tenancy is your Lease Agreement and it cannot be overemphasized. It encompasses the totality of your rights and obligations during the pendency of your tenancy. Rental or lease agreements should be framed with the aim of creating a mutually beneficial and healthy relationship between the tenant and the landlord. Particular emphasis is on the Agreement because the principle of law regulating landlord and tenant relationship is anchored on the law of contract. Therefore, the agreement is a legally binding document between both parties which will be enforced by the court in the event of a dispute.
You must ensure that you obtain a written tenancy agreement from your landlord at inception which must be signed by you, the landlord and witnesses. Though, it is legally acceptable that agreements could be either oral or express, it is safer to insist on a written agreement to eliminate any doubt or ambiguity and to ensure clarity of purpose of both parties from commencement of the tenancy. It is advisable that regardless of the existence of any amiable relationship with the potential landlord; always insist on a written agreement as a condition of your tenancy. A document speaks for itself. However, if your tenancy is for a fixed term of three years or more, it is a requirement of the law that it must be written.
It is a major occurrence that most prospective tenants are always in haste when entering into a landlord and tenant relationship due to the social challenge of high demand and low supply of housing in urbanized areas. This social menace encourages the tenants to undermine the agreement by signing the document without scrutiny thereby shortchanging them afterwards. Some unscrupulous landlords take advantage of the situation by inserting clauses which are inimical to the unsuspecting tenants.
Most landlords also hand out a one size fits all agreement to every tenant they encounter because it more economical for them. This shields them from the need to engage the services of a legal practitioner each time the need arises. This may be immensely detrimental to the tenants whose individual needs may not be met. However, before you sign any contractual agreement with your landlord, it is imperative to ensure that the under listed requirements is included:
THE ADDRESS OF THE RENTAL PROPERTY
For avoidance of doubts and clarity, the property and its basic features must be fully described. It must state how many bedrooms, the house number, the street, the locality where the property is located, the local government and the state.
COMMENCEMENT DATE OF THE AGREEMENT
The commencement date of the tenancy is of prime importance in an agreement because it assists to determine when future rents are due and payable. This precludes needless arguments between the landlord and the tenants over when the rent is due which is always an issue in tenancy matters.
DURATION OF THE TENANCY
This establishes the type of tenancy created by both parties from inception. This clause is very important because the method of termination of a periodic tenancy is essentially different to a fixed tenancy. For periodic tenancy, the duration of the tenancy is fixed for a particular time. Upon the expiration of the tenancy, if the tenant does not give up possession, the landlord may proceed to issue the statutory seven day notice also referred to as owner’s intention to recover premises to the tenant.
If the tenant further declines to deliver possession, the landlord may approach the court for eviction of the tenant. Conversely, a periodic tenancy is renewable and can only be determined by the issuance of a notice to quit before the statutory seven day notice.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE TENANTS AND THE LANDLORD
The rights and responsibilities of both parties should be clearly defined in the agreement. It should clearly state who pays the taxes, insurance and utility bills on the property. It should also state if pets are allowed and who pays for maintenance, minor and structural repairs on the property.
TERMS OF RENT COLLECTION
It is highly recommended that you include the manner of payment of the rent in the agreement. The method of payment could be by bank transfer or cash payment to the landlord or his agent. However, it is advisable that the most secured payment is a bank transfer and should be the preferred method. Payment through cash directly to the landlord may lead to arguments most of the time and also it will require the presence of a witness.
RENT REVIEW CLAUSE
Indiscriminate upward review of rents represents a high percentage of disputes between landlords and tenants. It is either the landlord increases the rent arbitrarily or inadequate notice to the tenant before the landlord increases the rent.
NOTICE REQUIRED FOR TERMINATION OF LEASE
If the tenancy is a fixed one which means that it is not renewable, then the tenancy automatically will be terminated due to effluxion of time without the need for a notice from either of the parties.
POLICIES REGARDING LANDLORD’S ENTRY
A lot of tenants are oblivious of the fact that once a property has been leased to you, the rights and interests of the landlord is in abeyance until the expiration of the rent. The rights and the interest of the landlord have been temporarily transferred to the tenant in consideration of the rent paid. Thus, to avoid claims of illegal entry or violation of privacy rights, your lease or rental agreement should clarify the issue of access to the property and how much advanced notice will be required before entering.
If a landlord has reasons to enter into the property which should be for repairs, it should be with the permission of the tenant. The permission could either be oral or written and must be included in the Agreement. A landlord who enters a property already leased out to a tenant without the required permission may be sued for trespass by the tenant.
NAMES AND SIGNATURE OF BOTH PARTIES AND WITNESSES
It is advisable that you and your landlord both execute the agreement and duly attested. The execution of the document makes it binding on both parties and admissible in law.
In the next edition, we shall discussing the corresponding rights and obligations of both landlord and tenant towards achieving a successful relationship.
Written by Olamide Onifade
Senior Partner, Olamide Onifade & Associates