•50% Abuja expensive structures inhabited by reptiles •Senate to the rescue with rent law
By FRED ITUA
“Any landlord that insists on collecting two-year rent will soon go to jail. On no account must a landlord demand for two-year rent. We will also make provision for the estate agent.
This will also ensure that the era of issuing receipts to the tenant through the agents be eradicated. We want this law to help the poor and the low-income earners. We have taken cognizance of how difficult it will be to implement these laws.
This law will be in favour of the tenants.” These are the assuring words of Senator Smart Adeyemi, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to Abuja Metro in an interview on the ugly trend in the city where most expensive structures that are all over the city have been abandoned by tenants.
All parts of the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) and beyond have this common characteristic – expensive, tasty and wondrous structures, built into residential estates but not inhabited. Some have remained that way for up to eight or 10 years. It is a common feature in Abuja, a city known for very unrealistic and criminal house rent.
Since the creation of the FCT, housing, owing to exorbitant rents imposed on tenants by landlords has remained a serious and vexed issue.
While tenants groan under the harsh rent regime, particularly in the capital city, landlords on the other hand are quick to remind anyone that listens that the problem arises from the exorbitant cost of securing lands within the metropolis. Abuja has assumed the status of the most expensive city in Nigeria and probably in Africa.
Abuja has left other major cities behind it in terms of high cost of accommodation. The trend has eventually made most buildings in popular districts like Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Jabi, Utako, Gwarimpa abodes for reptiles since they have gone beyond the reach of the ordinary residents in the city.
Even now, it has stretched to Mabushi, Kado, Life Camp, Dawaki and adjoining estates As a result, residents of the working class population in the city prefer the suburbs and neighbouring states of Nasarawa and Niger. A journalist recalled how she decided against continued renewal of her rent in Maitama where the apartment cost her about N2m a year.
She recently relocated to a suburb where a two-bedroom apartment, she described as excellent cost her N800. Yet, in comparison with other cities in Nigeria, the rent is still chocking and exploitative.
The irony about Abuja cost of residents that has chased people out of the highbrow areas is that the city is almost economically unproductive. Abuja does not manufacture anything beyond bottled water, some of which still come from outside the city.
The only business in the city apart from government business of money sharing is property, and the operators lump all their bills into one apartment and therefore charge outrageously. Even now, the trend of property sale and rent is in decline as patrons don’t have the money at their disposal.
It is common to hear stories of lands put up for sale for years without anybody affording the price. Some houses have had ‘to let’, ‘to lease’, ‘for sale’ bills hanging on them until they tear in pieces in the weather.
There is a peculiar instance on a street at Wuse 2, Thaba Tseka Street. It is off Adetokunbo Ademola to one end and Ibrahim Babangida Way at the other end. Almost one side of the street is taken up by a unique estate, but funny enough, the estate is at most 30 percent occupied.
Intending occupants say owners of these empty apartments all over the city still insist on the outrageous rents that scare customers. The cost also has forced many to prefer using money that would have rented them apartments at the metropolis to build their own homes at the outskirts.
There have been several efforts by past FCT ministers to curb this growing discontent, but non-existent laws have made the job even more impossible to accomplish.
Right now, little or nothing has been done to stop the crisis that has pushed many into doing unlawful things to make money and cope with the bill. Concerns raised by residents and civil society groups on the need to regulate house rent in Abuja have yielded no results. Rumours regarding the establishment of Rent Regulatory Agency by the FCT administration has also been debunked, thereby showing that an end to the problem is not coming soon.
The astronomical increase in house rent within the city took a worrisome dimension in 2010. The upsurge made the Senate Committee chairman on FCT, Adeyemi to initiate a bill to curb the excesses of landlords in the territory.
Speaking to Abuja Metro, Senator Adeyemi revealed that when the law is passed, the era of forcing tenants to pay exorbitant rents to get decent accommodations would be over. He is also optimistic that tenants will be protected against sundry abuses by overbearing landlords.
“The bill has gone through the first and second readings and has been committed to public hearing,” Senator Adeyemi revealed. “This is to express the seriousness we attach to it. Rent is a very serious social problem in Abuja. Something must be done to curb the ever-increasing house rent in Abuja.
It is also a way of curbing some of the social ills in the society. With this, our people will be able to build their own houses and we will put a stop to the era where landlords increase house rents incessantly.”
Senator Adeyemi admitted that exorbitant house rent in Abuja has also pushed people into committing crimes. “You discover that where people haven’t committed crimes as a result of the exorbitant house rents in Abuja, they go into some other social vices like some of our ladies.
Our ladies are ready to do anything in the evening in order to pay their bills. Let me tell you this, the major component of the bill is that under any circumstances will a landlord collect two years rent.
“We will make the law in a way that, even if the tenant wants to pay for two years, the law will not allow it. On no account should a landlord take two years rent. Laws are made in mind with the perception of the society.
We are going to make it expressly clear that where a tenant pays two years rent, the tenant, alongside his lawyer will report it to the police and go ahead to pay so that the police will use the evidence against the landlord.
He threatened that any landlord that flouts the new law will be sent to jail. “The new law will also protect the landlord, but not the point of making him have the upper hand over the tenant. We will make it make mandatory for tenants to pay their rents appropriately. Tenants who are already occupying the houses will not be allowed to pay for more than six months.
If the landlord insists on the tenant paying for more than six months, the law will compel him to report such to the police. “We are considering some penalties for landlords who demand more than what the law stipulates.
The first consideration is that if a landlord asks for more than one year rent or six month renewal, the tenant will be empowered by law to stay in that house for three to five years without making any payment.
The law must be on the side of the people,” Senator Adeyemi insists. Not a word from FCT In the meantime, FCT Administration has kept mum over its plans to regulate house rent. Efforts by Abuja Metro to secure reactions from FCT minister’s spokesperson, Jemilah Tangaza were unsuccessful.
She declined to respond to some reports in the media that the FCT administration would soon set up a regulatory agency to check excesses from landlords and tenants.
While tenants see it as laudable step, some landlords on the other hand are seriously against it. Buchi Okeke, a resident in Gwarinpa believes it is the right time for the National Assembly to act since FCT administration officials, primarily saddled with such responsibility have failed to act.
“Members of the National Assembly have always been on the side of the Nigerian people,” Buchi said. “I believe the law will finally curtail the excesses of landlords and put the minds of tenants at rest.” Austin Elemue, a landlord, believes the Senate could go beyond making laws to check the bad development.
He asked that the law should include ways to regulate cost of land in the territory. “The law is a welcome development. But I have issues with it. You don’t expect a landlord to buy a piece of land at N300 million, develop it with another N50m and then rent it out cheap? You and I know that it is not possible.
Let them also look inwards and ensure that cost of securing land in the FCT is reduced. In some other cities, land is cheaper. But it is different in Abuja. We hope it works at the end of the day,” Elemue prayed.