What Rights Do Tenants Have Over Landlords Under The Law? By Abiodun Doherty

The relationship between landlords and tenants is one of the most intricate and contentious in Nigeria. Many landlords have bitter experiences to share about tenants; and many would-be tenants prefer not to live in the same premises with their landlords.Many landlords also take the view that the law is one-sided, in favour of the tenant. Some have experienced or heard of tenants staying in an apartment for years by exploiting the loopholes in our legal system and not paying rent. Thus, for whatever it is worth, a little understanding of the basic principles of the law relating to this area is essential knowledge for a real estate investor.Who is a tenant? Simply put, whoever is occupying a premises whether he or she is paying rent or not is considered a tenant as long as such a person is not claiming to be the owner of the property. This captures all kinds of situation that ordinarily a layman may not consider as creating a landlord and tenant relationship.The landlord is not just a rent collector in law. He has a lot of responsibilities which many seem to be ignorant of.

Ordinarily, a landlord should keep the premises in a habitable state. He should ensure that the tenant lives peacefully in the premises without him or his or her agents constituting a nuisance. Where there is a tenancy agreement in place, the landlord is bound to keep to the terms of such a document.

A basic issue that often comes up is the issue of maintenance. Major repairs are the responsibilities of the landlord although the definition of this is fluid. A tenant is also expected to hand over the property in a decent state while excluding reasonable wear and tear.

Sometimes, to guarantee this, the landlord or his agent may demand the payment of a refundable caution deposit which depends on the area the property is located. A tenant loses this deposit where he or she has damaged the property beyond what should happen in a usual and normal circumstances.

It is a tenants responsibility to ensure that he or she pays for the utilities that is being used. Payment for electricity, water and such things should be handled by the tenant. It is unfair for a tenant to leave a property and leave behind unpaid bills which the landlord has to settle for with his own resources.

Another bill that causes disaffection between landlord and tenants is that of who pays, for instance, the Land Use Charge by the Lagos State Government. Many tenants believe that the owner of the property should be responsible for this and I tend to agree.

A property owner is an investor and has certain responsibilities to the government such as the payment of Land Use Charges. The tenants occupying the property pay rent which is a form of income and from which such bill should be deducted.

However, since the tenant occupying the property enjoys services by various government agencies, he or she should be held liable for such bills.

However ,it is unacceptable for a tenant to carry out major repairs without first obtaining the consent of the landlord and expect to be paid. It is also a tenants responsibility to maintain a peaceful co-existence with other tenants. He or she should not engage in illegal activities or any activity that can constitute a nuisance to other tenants. Where some amenities a shared, a reasonable tenant, will ensure the prompt payment of his or her share of the bill.

The relationship between a landlord and a tenant could be brought to an end at any time.

Where the landlord for one reason or the other decides to bring the relationship to an end, he or she will often need the assistance of a legal practitioner to navigate the intricacies of the process.

He must ensure that the tenant is given the appropriate notice to quit and that the process that leads to litigation is well complied with.

The days of jungle justice where a landlord could throw the tenants properties out of the premises are long gone.However,if you ensure that your relationship is governed by a tenancy agreement from inception and the due process of the law is complied with,sooner or later,you’ll get your property back.

Abiodun writes from abiodundoherty@yahoo.com

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