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Sometimes, landlords do not have all righ to property

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A LAND agent, Samson Idike, narrated a story about a female landlord in Awka, Anambra State, who decided to lease her property for either commercial purpose or for church use but later changed her mind not to lease her property when she came in contact with a Pastor of a certain church who showed interest in her offer.

During negotiation, the landlady confinded in the land agent, Idike, that there was no way she could lease her property to the pastor of the church.  Her reason being that the way the Pastor spoke to her and the kind of jeep he drove to the site was an eye opener that in future, the pastor can change the ownership of her property. Right there, she made up her mind to allow her property lie fallow.

In another development, a landlord who lives at Ohigbo (formerly Obigbo) in Rivers State, left his two flats vacant after having an encounter with a tenant who the landlord claimed did all he could to change the ownership of his house, arranged for the landlord to be transferred from Ohigbo to zone nine Umuahia for issuing the tenant notice to quit his house.

According to the landlord, Joseph Uzor, “I nearly lost my life when my tenant and my boy in the office while I was still in service,  did all he could to kill me and even change the ownership of my property. Since that time, I have made up my mind to allow my houses to remain vacant without tenants, though I had in mind to be receiving certain amount of money to care for my family after I had retired from active service”.

Yet, another landlord after his odd experience with tenants disposed his house and even advised other landlords not to harbor any tenant in their properties. According to him, “many tenants are evil, they don’t want to pay house rents. They want to live in people’s properties without paying house rents” he concluded.

There are too many stories of tenants and their landlords in court. Often, the problem have developed because of the action of some landlords, who does not respect their tenants fundamental human right to private and family life as enshrined in the constitution.

According to Nigerian law  anybody is free to become a landlord anywhere in the country. Nigerians have the right to own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria, all citizens of Nigeria have the right to buy, purchase, acquire, inherit and retain, own maintain and use a land located in any part of Nigeria. It does not matter whether one is Igbo or Hausa, Efik or Yoruba, indigene and non indigene.

One of the greatest powers of a landlord is right to rent and un-rent, his property. He has the right to hire and fire a tenant. No willing tenant can force himself or herself on the property of un-willing landlord.

Going by the law, landlords can serve valid ‘Notice to quit’ on their tenants without the aid of lawyers. A ‘Notice to Quit’ cannot be orally delivered rather, it must be written. A written notice to quit must contain the name of the landlord and his tenant, address of the house, property, duration of the notice and date of expiration must be included in a ‘notice to quit’. Writing of a notice to quit is not an exclusive work of a lawyer, a landlord, his care takers, estate managers and other agents can do such. A landlord must calculate and serve such notice to end on the eve of the anniversary of the subsisting tenancy of his tenant.

Hence, for a tenancy that would end on 30th June 2019, its valid notice to quit must end on the eve of 30th June 2019, for if it crosses over to 1st of July, it would be invalid. A landlord must make sure his ‘notice to quit’ is served personally on his tenant while an acknowledged copy of service of same is collected from the tenant. Refusal to collect or receive rent is not a ‘notice to quit’. Even the acceptance of arrears of rent or rent itself from a tenant does not put an end to a subsisting ‘notice to quit’ served.

Landlords are reminded not to issue a notice to quit to a tenant that has owed rent for three consecutive months or whose tenancy has expired or who has contradicted any of the conditions and terms of tenancy. For the sake of the above technicality, a landlord should engage the service of a lawyer.

The landlord has the right to issue or not to issue a notice to quit. Where a landlord need not issue a notice to quit is where a tenancy agreement contains such. The law allows waiver of ‘notice to quit’ during agreement and the law will honour same. And where a tenant contradicts a written term or conditions of his tenancy agreement, for instance, where a tenancy agreement provides that a building be used solely for residential purposes and a tenant turns such a building into a commercial business or industrial use, his landlord need not serve him a ‘notice to quit’.

Yet, the landlord has the right not to issue any tenant in debt or arrears of rent for three (3) consecutive months, ‘notice to quit’ he requires no ‘notice to quit’. The three months must be together and not having a new paid month in between them.

The rent must have been demanded by the landlord or his agents and where a term, tenure, duration of tenancy has expired and a new one is not renewed, a landlord need not serve a ‘notice to quit’.

No tenant can take away the building of a landlord from him or occupy his building without paying   Every period of occupation of building must be paid either as rent or as mesne profit (is a legal terminology for the amount owed by a tenant to landlord from the date his tenancy expired till the date he packed out of the building and gives up his possession to the landlord).

A landlord equally has the right to review his rent. The only thing that does not change is change. As policies, time and economics change, landlords can change their rent price, though it is always increment and never a decline, not minding depreciation on buildings.

There are yet other rights landlords can access such as rights not to reimburse a tenant in certain maintenances, right to issue seven days notice, amongst others.

But there is need for landlords to respect tenants fundamental human right to private and family life as enshrined in the constitution. Property owners should not resort to self help, like breaking tenants doors, windows and roof, beating tenants or locking them up in their flats or rooms in order to forcefully gain access or recover rent.

Reasons being that tenants equally have their own rights which include right to issuance of receipt after payment of rent, right to written agreement, valid quit notice before eviction, amongst others.

Reacting, a printer who is also a landlord, John Onyeka, who lives at Amawbia, in Awka South Local Government Area, Anambra State, pointed at two different buildings where tenants dragged their landlords to court.

According to Onyeka “it is frustrating. Tenants should put themselves in the shoes of landlords, and know how they will feel, instead of receiving house rents from their tenants, they are receiving court summons”.

An officer narrated how difficult it is to rent a house as an officer. He said, I went to rent an apartment, the first question the landlord. asked me was, where do you work?, I told him. THe landlord said, please I don’t want to go to court, no accomodation please”.

Also, a tenant complained bitterly about her landlord who did not allow her receive visitors in her rented apartment, saying that his soakaway pits will fill on time if she receives many visitors.

To avoid tenants and Landlord’s trouble, a retired Civil Servant Adaeze  Onu said,” if tenants cannot afford flats, they can rent one room so that they will be able to pay their landlords, while landlords should give quit notice to any tenant who fails to pay house rent.

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