The Nigerian Tenant, The Landlord & His Rental Apartment

Becoming a tenant in an apartment which is rented presumes that you have viewed the space prior to paying for it. Upon being satisfied with it you went ahead to enter into an agreement to use the mutually agreed space given up by the property owner for a sum of money which is the rent. Consciously, you have entered a contract in which the owner is obliged to give you the flat or apartment agreed and do certain things in the house. He therefore relates with you in exchange for cool cash.

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There is a certain balance of expectations on both sides which if kept to the letter (or the promises spoken), will lead to a blissful relationship. Usually however, no sooner than the first rent ( either for six months or one/two years) exchange hands, the problems seem to begin.

First, the landlord or his agents appear to have done much less than they promised to do with house repairs and even the little they did was at snail speed. Secondly problems that were not visible on your few inspections before paying suddenly becomes obvious; leaking roof, bad plumbing connections, rotten kitchen cabinets and shaky door locks ( which incidentally are the cheapest and most inferior of the lot available in the market).

To a new tenant, the whole thing does not add up and so he rushes back with complaints to the landlord and his agents only to get weak non committal responses which lead to virtually no improvement. Things like ” well, don’t worry, we will send the plumber ” or “the carpenter will come and repair the locks as soon as we get hold of him.

By the time the tenant has made four repeated calls, he is tired and exasperated because nothing new is done.
A long tortuous journey in a typical tenancy has just begun. The average tenant therefore begins on an almost bitter disappointing note. Everyday, he goes home to an uncomfortable apartment because of the problems that have not been fixed and the few hours of comfort he had is watching television or staying long hours at work because he has a good work environment.
In the rainy season he may have to arrange bowls and basins in the bedroom and sitting room to avoid damage to carpets and moveable property because we are in the tropics and the roof is leaking. Slowly the tenant becomes bitter and decides that once his rent expires he will not pay another rent. What is he paying for? This contraption of a house?

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While the tenant is perfecting this grand plan to avoid further rent payment until repairs are fixed, the landlord ( in anticipation of an increase in rent) has also gone to instruct his lawyer or his managing agent who oversees the house to give the tenant a notice to quit. Ultimately, he expects that the tenant will turn up for fresh negotiations and pay higher rent.

The stage is now set for a long drawn battle with both parties spitting fire. By the time that rent is demanded and refusals and hostilities begin, the fight is sparked off, sometimes lasting for many years in court or skirmishes that leave the poor tenant’s goods thrown out forcefully from the apartment.
There are several poorly managed gaps in between the above scene where just the right move, a simple meeting of parties or a few properly phrased words could have brought peace and solution. Unfortunately, it hardly happens that way and eventually the tenant is most hurt.
While some may view the above and gladly acknowledge that their experience has not been so bad, more than 75% of tenancies are like this. The few exceptions are the high end tenants who occupy luxury flats in planned estates or government reservation areas and pay exceptionally high rents because they can afford it or fewer tenants still who are fortunate to find new houses. Yet even these are not experiencing a perfect house.

Understandably most houses rented these days are old. Starting with the Brazilian type “face-me- I -face -you” rooming apartments that were popular until the sixties and the seventies; then the subsequent preferences for blocks of flats whose popularity coincided with the famous oil boom of the seventies and other house types like bungalows and duplexes. Nigeria’s housing stock features houses that are mostly thirty years old and above. New houses are not being built fast enough to keeping increasing housing stock because of economic down turns.

It is not so much the age of these buildings really but the poor maintenance culture that has repeatedly dealt a blow on both the interior and the exterior of the property. If you count the number of tenants that have occupied the flat over time they would be in excess of twenty-five yet most properties are not given timely repairs as tenants move in and out. Consistently, the house deteriorates.
The result is a property in very bad condition being used to earn higher rents year in, year out as the owner insists on earning income commensurate with others obtainable in its location. He does not really mind the particularly poor condition of his own property. The degree to which the landlord presses for rack rent or ignores pressing repairs now depend on his personal inclination and attitude as all landlords do not necessarily respond the same way. Even as we opine, there are still quite a number of property owners who insist on doing repairs periodically on their property.

So what does this mean? It appears that in a developing country like ours with steadily worsening economic woes, the tenant has to make choices among poor housing and learn to make the best of each situation as it occurs (or even before it occurs if it can be anticipated). That is the reason for this guide. Is the tenant going to respond to the whims of his Landlord or his agents? Yes. The ability to do this with minimum confrontation is what makes life good for the tenant. It is no use becoming unduly legalistic.

Come to think of it, what other options are there? This is not a welfarist system like the United Kingdom which has provision for social housing by the local authorities. Here in Nigeria, the state has consistently made a disaster of attempts at housing provision and so every one is left to the mercy of the landlords or the option of living under an overhead bridge. As a result, rent control cannot work. The landlord will simply ask government ” How can you control what you do not own?”
There is a common denominator about the way most property owners behave and if the tenant can X-ray this thinking pattern it can be used to advantage.

1) Every Landlord wants his rent as soon as it is due. He does not want to keeping calling on you or his agent many times and not get his rent payment.
2) Landlords do not like being told that they should take it easy. He will tell you that it was quite a challenge for him to build the house in the past as it is for anyone else today.
3) Most landlords do not like too many demands being made on rent being paid by the tenants to be used in repairs. This is so bad that even a timely structural repair could be refused just to maximize the money he hopes to collect. Actually this is purely economic thinking and may seem appropriate if not because the issue of people’s housing must also have a human face with social, kind and sentimental consideration.
4) Interestingly, landlords (not agents), are usually the ones that push for rent increases. Inflation in Nigeria pushes prices up frequently, including rents. When in social circles the landlord is able to hear the latest figure of rents his friend received on his own flat and duplex he thinks quickly. He promptly pushes his agents or does it himself. The old man is relying on rental income for living expenses because in most cases the landlord is either retired or ageing and tends to depend a lot on this source of income.
5) When a tenant makes firm demands on the landlord and tries to stand up to him, the latter may consider those demands as unreasonable and usually would take the path of least resistance simply by asking the tenant to vacate his property
6) Some Landlords are egoistic and like to be fully recognized sometimes acting irrationally and overbearing just to prove who they are or how important they feel, especially if they share the premises with tenants.
Overall the Landlord is not as mean as we all portend; he is just shrewd. He or she is an owner of resources who wants to maximize income being generated from it.

Rather, it is the system we are in that poses constant challenges to everyone both landlord and tenants. Because there are no social supports or clear government spending to cushion the effects of inflation, unemployment and poor living conditions, it becomes survival of the fittest. The tenant interprets it this way: because the landlord or his agents have refused to consider the system and give concessions, they have chosen to take it out on him who is paying rent for what he had hoped would be decent accommodation.

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