Dec 21, 2016

Rights Of A Tenant In Nigeria By Onyekachi Umah, Esq. ACIArb(Uk)


Just as the human fingers vary, so do human status, situations and endeavours vary. At different times, locations and situations in life you are either a tenant or a landlord or even both. You may be the owner of your residence while you are a tenant in your office complex. They can never be a tenant without a landlord. For more on landlords rights and duties, read my article; RIGHTS OF A LANDLORD. Due to the African undue attachment to land and landed property so much attention and superiority is added to the status of “Landlordship”. This makes up for the ill treatment the so called landlords do met out to their often poor tenants. 

The Nigerian law is all encompassing and people-welfare oriented. The law went on to provide an avalanche of rights, duties and privileges for tenants.  Am set to outline and dwell in the details on the rights, duties, privileges, powers and remedies open to tenants in Nigeria, as a whole.

A tenant is declared a lesser human being against the wishes of the constitution as many times as his/her rights are trampled on. The law will always lean in favour of a tenant and to safeguard him properly while he strives to acquire his own premises. Here are some of the rights open to tenants in Nigeria, today;

1: RIGHT TO A WRITTEN AGREEMENT.
Agreements generally can be oral or written. In this century, oral agreements seem awkward especially when it is executory (yet to be executed) and involves huge considerations from the parties to it. It is advised that agreements are written, on that note a Latin maxim says that “Quo scripti scripti”, what is written is written and another adds that, “quo scripti mante”; what is written remains. For the avoidance of doubt, ambiguity and misunderstanding of the intentions of the parties (landlord and tenant) at the time of their agreement, our courts encourage tenancy agreements to be in writing. This will aid both parties to outline their terms and conditions expressly. The law makes the writing of tenancy agreements mandatory for tenancies above three (3) years while tenancy below three can be orally or written. Generally to be on the safe side parties are advised to put their agreements in writing even if it is for a week tenancy.

Tenancy agreements are to contain in details the names of a landlord and his tenant; as parties to the tenancy agreement. The land or house to be rented out ought to be described in details; showing its location and basic features. The duration of the tenancy, the rent payable and the date at which such rent would become payable should be stated. The modalities for reviewing rent price (increment in price) should be included. Above all, the duration for any “Notice to Quit” to be served on the tenant should not be left out. Other terms, conditions, and covenants that can be added are; who makes repairs on the house, how and who pays for accruing bills and expenses (water, electricity and sanitation bills). In making the tenancy agreement between the landlord and the prospective tenant both parties are to execute the agreement by signing and dating it before their respective witnesses (at least one witness for each party). Post office stamp should be affixed to the agreement to enrich its probative value (make it recognised in law and acceptable in court as an evidence).  

In reaching a tenancy agreement a tenant ought to be as wise as a serpent since he will extend or shorten his freedom by the contents of the agreement. Nigerian landlords are too busy to enter into contracts with all their prospective tenants and equally too stingy to seek for the services of lawyers. Consequently, most landlords duplicate a single tenancy agreement and use same for all their tenancy agreements irrespective of their varying conditions and terms; thereby leaving some intentions unexpressed. Prospective Tenants like “money borrowers”, are always desperate to obtain tenancy/accommodation irrespective of any draconic conditions attached to such. Many tenants even move into property and live for years before remembering to seek for a written agreement. A tenancy agreement couched by a lawyer for a landlord might often be confusing and a bit unfavourable to a prospective tenant. It might take a lawyer to peruse such and properly advise a prospective tenant on terms and covenants to add or remove from such tenancy agreement.

Prospective tenants are advised to seek the services of their solicitors before signing or agreeing to any unclear terms of any tenancy agreement. Never go into any tenancy agreement orally; even if it is for the least of property or for the shortest of terms. Let the friendliness and joy of today not becloud your sense of reasoning else tomorrow may be sour. 

2: RIGHT TO ISSUANCE OF RECEIPT OF PAYMENT.
 Payment of rent is a vital part of tenancy albeit not proof of existence of a tenancy. It is often one of the covenants of a tenancy agreement. Payment of rent can help a court in calculating the duration for a valid Notice to Quit, where there is no agreement. Prove of payment (receipt) is needed in the calculation of a mesne profit (rent incurred by a tenant after the expiration of a valid “Notice to Quit” served on him) and even arrears of rent (rent incurred by a tenant while in a valid tenancy with his landlord). It can equally clear off any allegation of contravention of a valid rent clause (timely payment of rent). Hence, a tenant is entitled to the receipts of payment of his rent; for it is a proof of payment therein.

The receipt of payment is an acknowledgement from a landlord (or his agent) that he has received rent from a tenant. It must contain the name of the landlord and the tenant, the amount paid and the date of such payment. The property for which such payment is made, the duration that such payment will cover and the signature of the receiver must also be on the receipt.

It is an actionable offence to refuse to issue a receipt for rent paid and received. It is your right as a tenant to be issued a receipt upon payment of rent. Where the payment is only a part of the whole, it should also be receipted and same stated. Remember a written agreement endorsed by the landlord before a witness that he has received a rent from his tenant will suffice. No matter how familiar, friendly, corporative and caring your landlord is, please always demand for receipts of your paid rents to safeguard your tomorrow.

3: RIGHT TO PEACEFUL ENJOYMENT OF PROPERTY.
 A tenant pays his rent to his landlord for the landlord to grant him a peaceful and serene enjoyment of the landlord’s property within an agreed period to the exclusion of all other persons; the landlord inclusive. No tenant pays to be offered an uninhabitable apartment, dilapidated property, unsecured environment or a contentious accommodation. Once payment is made and tenancy commence the tenant has both legal and equitable rights over the said property. Hence the tenant holds and occupies the property to the exclusion of all other persons and even against the landlord since he holds a better and higher title than the landlord.  

Consequently, a tenant has an absolute right over his paid flat, room, apartment or building. He determines entrance, usage, safety and can even sue for trespass against any trespasser; strangers, landlord and his agents. The landlord can supervise and maintain the property generally, but with the knowledge of the tenant and within reasonable hours of the day. Once a landlord rents out his property he has also rented out his supreme powers over the property although he still has reversionary interest (right to take back property at the expiration of tenancy). So why should a tenant upon his rent worship and tremble before his landlord like a semi-god? Why should a tenant tolerate a landlord who breaks and enters without into the tenant’s premises without consent?  Why should a tenant be enslaved and turned into a sanitary attendant by his landlord whom he pays rent as at when due? The above happen when and where the tenant is ignorant of his rights as a tenant! Let such a man/woman consult a lawyer and report cases of criminal trespass to the nearest police station.

4: RIGHT TO A VALID NOTICE TO QUIT.
 Generally, going by the dictates of our law no landlord can evict his tenant whether he is in debt or not by throwing him out of his premises.  The legislatures in consideration of our conservative Land Use Act have enacted series of tenants-friendly Acts and laws.  A tenant cannot be thrown out of his apartment unless there is a strict compliance by his landlord with of relevant Recovery of Premises Law.

Recovery of Premises Law provides that a valid “Notice to Quit” (Quit Notice) of a landlord’s intention to terminate/quit the tenancy of the tenant must be written and served on the tenant. The law went on to provide durations for “Notice to Quit” for varying tenancies. It provides that a one (1) year or above tenancy will require at least a six (6) months notice.  Monthly tenancy requires one (1) month notice while a weekly notice requires one (1) week notice. Note that by tenancy agreements the landlord and tenant can agree on a different duration for Notice to Quit. By the agreement of both parties a yearly tenancy for which the law provides a six (6) months “Notice to Quit” can be reduced to a week or a month notice. Some tenants can even sign to a tenancy to be evicted without a “Notice to Quit”. The law honours and respects the agreements of parties and will implement it to the last of letters.

A diligent tenant before agreeing and signing to a tenancy agreement should carefully read and understand in details the provisions of his agreement documents. Better still, the service of a lawyer can be sought to help in perusing and interpreting the contents of the agreement. Remember the law does not and will not care to know that a tenant did not understand or never knew the law before signing his agreement; “ignorantio legis non excuse” (ignorance of the law is no excuse). When a tenant signs a lawful agreement that limit his rights he will be bound by such same agreement; “violentia non fit injuria”. And such party cannot be allowed to plead that he never signed such agreement (non est factum).

Please, do note that when a tenant owes his landlord for (3) three consecutive months, the landlord can dispense with the issuance of a “Notice to Quit” on such tenant. Where tenancy has expired by time and there is no new and subsisting tenancy, the landlord can also recover his property without issuing a “Notice to Quit”, although he is expected to adhere to other conditions.

A valid “Notice to Quit” must contain the name of the landlord, the name of the tenant, the address of the property occupied by the tenant, date the notice will commence and date it will end. It must not end when a tenancy is still running and valid. Such notice must be calculated in a way that it ends on the eve of the anniversary of a subsisting tenancy, for yearly tenancies. Where it is a monthly tenancy it must expire on day of the anniversary of a subsisting tenancy.  A “Notice to Quit” that those not contain all the above necessary information, can be vitiated by a court of competent jurisdiction. A tenant who is not clear on the contents of any Notice served him should see his/her lawyer.

5: RIGHT TO A COMPULSORY (7) SEVEN DAYS NOTICE TO RECOVER PREMISES.
 “Seven (7) days Notice of Owner’s Intention to Recover Premises” is a notice from a landlord’s lawyer notifying a tenant upon whom a “notice to quit” had been served and same had expired; that the lawyer will after seven (7) days from the date of the service of the Notice proceed to court to recover the over- held premises on behalf of the landlord.

In the light of the Law’s determination to protect the often humiliated tenants in Nigeria, it went on to provide that aside the service of a valid “Notice to Quit” on the tenant, the landlord must go on to serve a “(7) Seven days Notice of Owners Intention to Recover Premises”. The law would not encourage a scene where surprises are sprang upon tenants; hence a tenant must at all times be accorded adequate time to quit possession.

A “(7) Seven days Notice of Owner’s Intention to Recover Premises” can only be served on a tenant after the expiration of a valid “Notice to Quit”. Where a seven (7) Days Notice is served before a “Notice to Quit” or during the life span of a “Notice to Quit”, such is invalid and goes to no issue. A seven (7) days notice is to be calculated from the day after the service of the notice on the tenant and not from the day of service. If the notice is short or less by just a day it is a good ground for the court to reject the legality of such. Let no one threaten you by serving a defective Notice on you or a court order that you should vacate premises without all the above statutory notices. Just speak to you lawyer first.

6: RIGHT TO A STATUTORY TENANCY.
 A tenant after the expiration of a valid “Notice to Quit” on him and he still maintains possession without the revocation of such notice or paying of rent, he is said to be holding such against the rights of the landlord. Even at this stage the laws will still frown at a landlord who goes on to throw out his tenant without proceeding to court for such an order. The law still allows such a tenant to maintain possession although no longer as a tenant of the landlord rather as a tenant of the law (statutory tenant). As a statutory tenant he is not mandated to pay rent to his landlord although a court can order him to pay up all rent (mesne) he accumulated within such period after determination of a suit on such. 

7: RIGHT TO FAIR HEARING.
 The 1999 Constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2011) in its fullness and supremacy has provided all persons in Nigeria with some inalienable Fundamental Human Rights of which one of them is a Right to Fair Hearing. No person (tenant) can be tried in a competent court without his/her own part of the matter being heard before judgement is passed. So no tenant can be evicted by court without hearing from the tenant. Some landlords in their wickedness and criminality do procure strangers to pose as sued tenant to deceive the court and procure judgement. If a tenant suspects that his landlord has gone to deceive the court; let him immediately seek the services of a lawyer.

 8: RIGHT TO SUE LANDLORD FOR TRESPASS.
A tenant has the right to sue a landlord who pays deaf ears to the provisions of the law and goes on to throw out him out. The above detailed procedures are not mere academic literature rather valid and subsisting procedure for the eviction of tenants in any part of Nigeria. Once a tenant is in occupation of premises then he has all rights over the premises and the law will not allow his landlord to trespass against such.

The court will not hesitate to slam the hammer on a landlord that throws the laws to the winds. Let a tenant seek remedy in court by consulting a lawyer. He should equally complain to the Nigerian Police of such trespass, to investigate such and prosecute the landlord for criminal trespass. All persons are equal before the law and a landlord is not in any degree a master or lord unto his tenant; not a “tenant-lord”. For more on rights and duties of a landlord, click on "RIGHTS OF A LANDLORD". 
Thank you. 

READ THIS AND OTHER OF MY SIMPLIFIED LAW ARTICLES BY CLICKING ON THE LINK; www.LearnNigerianLaws.com 



Onyekachi Umah, Esq. ACIArb(Uk)
08037665878
Onyekachi.umah@gmail.com



Ed’s Note – This article was originally published here

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