By Romanus Okoye
To live peacefully in Lagos, it is vital that tenants and landlords understand the law regulating their rights and obligations. For such purpose, the tenancy laws of Lagos State were enacted on August 5, 2011 at the Lagos State House of Assembly and signed by the then governor, Babatunde Fashola on August 24, same year. It is now the main law regulating housing in Lagos State. Lawyers speak on its provisions.
Said PGC Achigasim, a lawyer: “The tenancy law of Lagos is unique. It is found in its attempt to remove the perceived bottlenecks in the old law. One of such provisions is the removal of the hitherto provision that says that “a notice to quit” must expire on the anniversary of the tenancy. With the landlords and tenants law, the notice to quit could be given at any time and expire at any time. Even after the anniversary of tenancy provided, it complies with the law.
“Another uniqueness of the law is the provision of the law on monthly and quarterly tenancy. Once a tenant is in arrears of rent for a month in the case of a monthly tenancy or three months in the case of a quarterly tenancy, then the need for notice to quit is dispensed with. In other words, one does not need to issue and serve such tenants in arrears, notice to quit.
“The law criminalizes non-issuance of receipt of payment after receiving payment by the landlord. The penalty or fine is N250, 000.00. There is also the provision for an order to open a property, which was locked up by a tenant. This provision takes care of a situation where a tenant locks up the property of the landlord and relocates to another place before the landlord would need to go through the route of proving his case before the property can be opened. But this law allows such landlord to file a motion on notice to force open the said property.
“It is largely credited with the new ways landlord’s request for rents now. Before now, landlords required two years’ rent from tenants but landlords now collect one year’s rent. To this extent, the law has succeeded. The only drawback is that it is discriminatory. Its provisions are inapplicable in the highbrow areas of the state like the Ikeja G.R.A, Apapa GRA, Ikoyi, Victoria Island etc.”
Jide Ogundimu, a lawyer and housing specialist, also stated: “Section 1 of the law which deals with its application, stipulates as follows; (1) This law shall apply to all premises within Lagos State, including business and residential premises unless otherwise specified. The following areas: (i) Apapa; (ii) Ikeja GRA (iii) Ikoyi; and (iv) Victoria Island are exempted from the application of this law. The Governor may, however, from time to time, by order published in the State Official Gazette, exempt the application of this law to any other area or premises in the state.
“The Rent Control and Recovery of Residential Premises Law Vol. 7 Laws of Lagos State 2003 and the newly enacted Tenancy Laws of Lagos State 2011 are the current laws regulating tenancies in Lagos State.
“Section 4 of the Act covers advance rent, and it provides as follows: It is unlawful for a landlord or his agent to demand or receive from a sitting tenant rent in excess of six months for a monthly tenant and one year for a yearly tenant in respect of any premises without prejudice to the nature of tenancy held at the commencement.
“It is unlawful for a sitting tenant to offer or pay rent in excess of one year for a yearly tenant and six months for a monthly tenant in respect of any. It is unlawful for a landlord or his agent to demand or receive from a would-be tenant rent in excess of one year in respect of any. It is unlawful for a new or would-be tenant to offer or pay rent in excess of one year in respect of any. Any person who receives or pays rent in excess of what is prescribed in this section will be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a fine of N100, 000.00 or to three months imprisonment.
“Section 1(2) provides as follows: “This law will not apply to: residential premises owned or operated by an educational institution for its staff and students; residential premises provided for emergency shelter; residential premises in a care or hospice facility, in a public or private hospital or a mental health facility, and that is made available in the course of providing rehabilitative or therapeutic treatment.”
Funmi Adeogun, MCIArb ( UK), Vice Chairman, NBA Epe Branch and treasurer, NBA SPIDEL added: “Tenants in Lagos have to know that once a quit notice is served on them, it doesn’t mean they are excused from paying rents. They must know that there must be an agreement between the landlord and tenant on rent increment as opposed to just informing the tenant. They must also know that once they sign the tenancy agreement, they would be bound by it.”
Other key matters
Under the Lagos State Tenancy Law of 2011, which is similar to the tenancy laws of other states in Nigeria, it is an offence to try to forcefully evict a tenant. It is also illegal for a landlord or his agent to disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of the demised property in a bid to frustrate the tenant and force him to move out.
Eviction of a tenant
The first step to evict a tenant in Lagos State is to issue what is referred to as the statutory notices. There are two statutory notices that should be issued and they are the “Notice to Quit” and the “Notice of Owner’s Intention to Recover Premises.”
The notices are called statutory notices because there is a specific format. Statutory notices are not mere letters you write to a tenant asking him to surrender possession of your property. There is a special format which must be used and the format is contained in the tenancy law.
Notice to Quit
A notice to quit is the first statutory notice a property owner ought to give his tenant. The rules guiding the issuance of notice to quit provide that the notice to quit is to be issued in accordance with the tenancy agreement. What this means is that if there was a written tenancy agreement and the agreement states the length of notice to be given, then the notice to quit should comply with the tenancy agreement in order for it to be valid.
However, where there is no tenancy agreement, or if the tenancy agreement does not state the length of the notice, then the following rules shall apply:
For a yearly tenancy, the length of notice should be a minimum of six months. For a half-yearly tenancy the length of notice should be a minimum of three months. And for a monthly tenancy, the length of notice should be a minimum of one month.
Notice of Owner’s Intention to Recover Premises
After the expiration of the notice to quit, the tenant is expected to vacate the premises and surrender possession. However, in reality, some tenants remain on the property either due to the needed resources to move elsewhere or due to being adamant. At this point, you are expected to issue the seven days notice of the owner’s intention to recover premises. The seven days notice, just like the notice to quit, also has a specific format, which must be strictly adhered to.
The rationale behind issuing the seven days notice is to inform the tenant that you intend to approach the court for an eviction order. If the tenant still refuses to vacate after the seven days notice, then you are expected to approach the court for an order of eviction.
Institute a recovery of premises action in court
If a tenant refuses to vacate the premises and deliver up possession, then the proper thing to do next will be to file a court action. In Lagos State, the recovery of premises action can either be filed in the magistrates’ court or the high court.
If the rental value of the premises occupied by the tenant is above N10 million, then the high court would be the proper venue for the matter. If on the other hand, the rental value is below N10 million, then the magistrates’ court within the division or district would be the appropriate court to approach. Once the matter has been filed in court, both parties can either opt to settle amicably or proceed to trial.
Both parties can explore settlement if the tenant agrees to vacate the premises but perhaps is requesting for more time. The parties can meet along with their solicitors and agree on the terms of the settlement. Upon reaching a conclusive agreement, the solicitors would file terms of settlement document which would be adopted by the court as its judgment in the suit.