Aug 4, 2016

Evicting tenants through self-help

A client once complained to me about a belligerent tenant who despite owing arrears of rent had refused to vacate the premises. My Client wanted to let the premises to someone else who was ready to pay and asked how he could get the tenant out in two months.

This is rather an unfortunate situation landlords sometimes find themselves in. My Client required funds for his business and these funds were being held over by the unyielding tenant, which was very frustrating for him. One cannot blame tenants who also are in this position because such disputes usually arise from the financial incapacity of the tenant or from dispute with the landlord over rights and obligations of the parties.

Sadly for my client, I informed him that his tenant being a yearly tenant could not be evicted in 3 months except he left on his own accord as it was mandatory that the tenant be served a 6 months’ Notice before the process of eviction could begin. 

My client also wanted to know when exactly he could serve the Quit Notice as the tenants term was to expire in seven months. According to the law in this regard, a Notice to Quit must end not sooner than at midnight on the day preceding the anniversary of the tenancy as stated by the Supreme Court in Nig. Joint Agency LtdV. Arrow Eva & Gen. Trans. Co. Ltd (1970) NSCC 273. Therefore, if the yearly tenancy term began on the 5th of February, 2015, the Notice to Quit must expire no sooner than 4th of February, 2016.

Many impatient landlords sometimes result to self-help in these situations. Some by executing physical ejection of the tenant by forcefully removing the tenant’s belongings from the premises or by frustrating the tenant via cutting off water supply to the tenant’s apartment and also via some extreme measures like removing the roof of the building and exposing the tenant to the elements of nature. 

All landlords must note that these sorts of actions are extremely frowned upon by the law. This is further illustrated by the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in Prof. Ajibajo Akinkugbe V. Ewulum Holdings Nigeria Limited & Anor (2008) 4 SCNJ 404

Even where a tenancy has come to an end, the landlord is not entitled to go out into the premises and physically throw out the tenant but must give the statutory notice required to the person in possession. The laws of all civilized nations have always frowned at self –help. The law forbids it. Elochin (Nig) Ltd V. Mbadiwe (1986) 1 NSCC 42

Where the landlord brushes aside the necessity to obtain an order of court of law for possession and jettisons the rule of law, enters the premises and takes possession, he has invaded and committed an infraction of the rights of the tenant and renders himself liable in trespass. 

It is therefore advised that should a landlord be in such situation, it is wise to retain the services of a lawyer in ejecting the tenant. Also negotiating and mediating as a means of settling tenancy disputes should be explored and encouraged.  

Dunmade Onibokun Esq.
Principal Partner
Adedunmade Onibokun & Co.

Dunmade’s legal practice focuses on corporate and commercial law, regulatory compliance, due diligence, corporate advice and commercial transactions.  He is the Principal partner of Adedunmade Onibokun & Co. a law firm based in Lagos, Nigeria. Dunmade is also a blogger and publishes the Legalnaija Blawg via