If you live in Lagos or any other urban arrangement in Nigeria, you would have probably had to deal with a dubious landlord or agent or (if you are a landlord) treacherous or nonchalant tenant. By signing a tenancy agreement, a tenant is subject to the terms of the lease which were set forth by the landlord which essentially means the landlord will take commensurate action if the tenant is deemed to default.
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The tenant, in turn, is well protected by extant laws against the excesses of dubious landlords and their agents. In this piece, we will be helping you understand how to undertake legal action if you happen to be on either side of the landlord/tenant divide.
A tenancy agreement is as important a document as any a tenant will sign and is, in fact, the very basis of the relationship between the landlord and his tenant. A tenancy agreement is an agreement between a landlord and tenant which states the terms which both parties agreed. It must be in written form if it is to be valid legally. As a landlord, you must resist the temptation to forcefully remove or evict a tenant from the property as the court would view it as tantamount to harassment if the tenant happens to sue no matter what how troublesome he/she might be deemed by the landlord.
According to the Lagos State Tenancy Law 2011, a landlord can begin the eviction process if:
- The tenant is in arrears of rent.
- The tenant has been in breach of any provisions in the tenancy agreement.
- If the landlord required, the premises for other use(s)
- The property is being used illegally.
- The property has been abandoned.
- The property is unfit for human habitation.
- The tenant constitutes by conduct, an act of intolerable nuisance or induces a breach of a tenancy agreement.
In pursuing a complaint against the tenant, the landlord must first determine that the tenant is in arrears of rent after which, he can then apply for his/her eviction from the property and repossess it and also that they pay the said arrears.
If the tenant is not in fact in arrears of rent, then the landlord is to issue a notice to quit – a period of notice which the landlord must give before the eviction process can be completed – and according to the law, the period of validity of tenancy determines the duration of the said quit notice thus:
One month’s notice if the tenant is on a monthly rent
Three months’ notice if the tenant is on a three-month tenancy.
Three months’ notice if the tenant is on a six-month tenancy
Six months’ notice if the tenant is on a one-year rental period.
Once the quit notice expires, the landlord is to serve the tenant a seven-day notice of the intent to go to court. There is a special form which is used for this. If the time elapses and the tenant refuses to vacate, then the landlord can then pursue the matter in court formally.
To protect yourself as a tenant, you must know your rights in full. Interestingly, the tenancy agreement will tend to be the tenant’s most important right and weapon. Do understand that you are better protected if its terms are put down in writing no matter the duration of your tenancy. The law requires that all agreements over three years must be put into writing. Among other things the tenant has i) the right of receipt of payment ii) right to exclusive possession iii) right to habitable premises iv) right to notice to quit before eviction v) right to seven days’ notice before repossession
In the event that any of these is violated, the tenant can seek redress in court through a lawyer by suing for trespass, wrongful eviction, assault, battery, slander, libel and the intentional infliction of emotional distress among other things in much the same way a landlord could file for a seven-day notice of eviction.
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- Such matters are usually filed at the state high court wherever you are as it is a property issue and naturally, you must enlist the services of a lawyer in a matter this complex. Pay the requisite filing fees. Once this is done, the case will be filed with the court registry and then the defendant (landlord) will be served with a court notice with all the documents and processes filed by the claimant.
- The defendant will be expected to respond with a statement of defence with a list of witnesses, the written statements under oath and copies of documents to back their defence during the trial.
- A suit may be scheduled at the behest of the court when it has observed proof and satisfied that the defendant has been served the claimant’s case or where it is that both parties have joined issues. The Court then gets to consider the claims and proof before it in deciding the case.
Note that the court will most likely decide in favour of the party with the strongest evidence so you must carefully consider your claims with your lawyer as well as other options beyond a court case which are visibly faster, cheaper and less time-consuming.
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