Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Rights and Duties of Tenants Under the Lagos State Tenancy Law


The Lagos State Tenancy Law 2011 was introduced to regulate the relationship and in particular, the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords under Tenancy Agreements, and the process for the recovery of premises and other related purposes. 

General Comments and Limitations of the Law:

While most of the provisions of the law are laudable, readers must bear in mind that the Law does not apply to certain types of premises. The premises exempted are: residential premises owned or managed by an educational institution for its staff and students, residential premises provided for emergency shelter, residential premises in a care or hospice facility; in a public or private hospital or a mental health facility; and/or one that is made available in the course of providing rehabilitative or therapeutic treatment, and the law is also not applicable in the following areas of the State; Apapa, Ikeja GRA, Ikoyi, and Victoria Island 

Rights of a Tenant:

By reason of the law, every tenant under a lease agreement is entitled to privacy, freedom from unreasonable disturbance, right to possess the leased premises exclusively, and right to use the common areas of the building for reasonable and lawful purposes.

Where the leased premises is a business premises, the tenant, his customers and clients have a right of access to the premises, and also have a right not to be unduly hindered by any disruption which may affect the tenant and lead to loss of profits. As for the landlord, he has a reciprocal duty to make sure that he does not do that which will result in loss of profit by the tenant (whether by way of an action or inaction). 

By reason of the Law, all tenants are entitled to receive an evidence of payment for rent; the least form of acknowledgement that a landlord must present to the tenant is a rent payment receipt, but it is advisable that a tenancy agreement is prepared to regulate the tenancy relationship.

A tenant that seeks the permission of the landlord to carry out structural improvement on the premises is entitled to a refund by the landlord, and this right is only protectable if and only if he secured the prior approval of the landlord in writing before carrying out the improvements on the premises. Where the premises is used for business, the tenant may carry out repairs after giving notice in writing to the landlord requiring him to rectify, repair, or maintain the exterior or common parts of the building and the landlord failed to respond within a reasonable time.

Finally, a tenant that is billed service charge, facility, and/or security deposits (monies under this heading includes electricity bill, waste/refuse bill, water charges, security charges etc) in addition to rent is entitled to a separate receipt for the money paid under those headings and is also entitled to a written account at least every 6 (six) months from the landlord of how the monies paid were spent.

Duties of a Tenant:

Tenants have obligations and duties which they must adhere to under the law, these obligations and duties include the payment of rents at appropriate time, payment of existing and future rates and charges as agreed with the landlord (other than the ones which the law compulsorily imposes on the landlord), duty to keep the premises in a good and tenantable condition (except situations of reasonable wear and tear), duty to permit the landlord and his agents during the tenancy at all reasonable hours of the day time after previous notice in writing, to view the condition of the premises and to carry out repairs in necessary parts of the building, duty not to alter or add to the premises without the written consent of the landlord, duty not to assign or sub-let any part of the premises to another person without the written consent of the landlord, and duty to notify the landlord where structural or substantial damage has occurred to any part of the premises as soon as practicable.

Duty to pay rent as at when due also includes the duty to pay rent for the period stated in a notice to quit. Therefore, if a landlord (acting directly or through his/her agent) gives a notice to a tenant to quit an apartment within 6 months, those 6 months ought to be paid for by the tenant, except if the landlord decides to waive payment. 

One of the things that the law seeks to prohibit is the payment of rent in excess of one (1) year by a tenant that pays rent for duration other than monthly, and six months for a tenant that pays monthly rent. As a matter of compulsion, tenants have a duty not to offer or pay rent in excess of one year in respect of any premises otherwise may risk being liable to a fine of One Hundred Thousand Naira or three months imprisonment. 

Words of Advice to Tenants:

While I have carefully outlined the rights and obligations/duties of tenants above, tenants must note that other than in situations where the law imposes a duty on the tenant, or a situation where a duty is imposed on either of the tenant or the landlord by reason of another law, either of the landlord or tenant may legally contract any of his/her duties to the other party. For instance, a tenant may enter an agreement to alter the structure of the premises to suit his taste without having to first seek for the written consent of his landlord.   

One area of the law which is often ignored in practice is the aspect dealing with who ought to be responsible for paying for the services rendered by a professional in respect of the Tenancy Agreement. The law imposes this duty on the party who engages the services of the professional, and since it is the landlord that engages the services of a lawyer to draft Tenancy Agreement in most cases, he also has a legal obligation to pay the professional fee of the lawyer.

Unfortunately, the law says little or nothing about how a tenant can enforce his rights against a landlord; it is therefore advisable that the tenant should insist on having a Tenancy Agreement to define the scope of his rights and ways to enforce those rights where the landlord defaults. 

Other tips that a tenant can explore in the event that a landlord has defaulted in his duties include the following: The tenant may opt to draw the attention of the landlord to the rights he (the tenant) is being denied of, he may decide to report the matter at the nearest Lagos State Citizens Mediation Centre, or he may decide to institute a legal action against the landlord, but the best option will be to consult a competent lawyer for proper advice.


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