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Why Govt Must Rein In Greedy Lagos Landlords

Findings by Tenancy Watch, a Non-Governmental Organisation led by Barrister Leon Mbakwe, indicates that some landlords in parts of Lagos like Surulere, Ilasamaja, Festac/Amuwo-Odofi, Okota, among others, are still demanding rents from their would-be tenants in excess of the one-year rule.

Where they are not demanding rents in excess of one year, they’ve devised a strategy of hiking rents so excessively that a year’s rent is made exactly double what they used to collect just before the law was enacted.

It is instructive that although the Lagos Tenancy Law, 2011 has been in force since August, 2011, yet hardly has any conviction been recorded in respect of breaches, despite that infractions against the law, which forbids landlords from demanding more than a year rent advance, are going on with impunity.

According to Mbakwe, the blame is not exactly to be placed on the landlords; but rather on the fact that the law has effectively failed because it failed on its part to take into account some important sociological and economic factors.

Some of these factors, he said, include that the law was too prescriptive without exacting from government any obligation to provide adequate accommodation for the masses, leaving the people at the mercy of the law of demand and supply.

The law also failed to establish a monitoring mechanism to pursue breaches and redress same, among others.

Stressing that the law has therefore, failed irredeemably, Mbakwe adds that the call for its repeal or amendment has become ever more urgent.

He maintained that his organisation is thus working on a proposition, which is soon to be put forward before the Lagos State House of Assembly that would see to either the law’s outright repeal or amendment.

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Speaking in an exclusive chat with DAILY INDEPENDENT, Mbakwe listed why he believes the law failed to rein in breaches or cure the mischief for which it was enacted.

He said: “You see the reason is that people make mechanical laws without considering the sociological aspects of the law.

“You cannot regulate what you don’t have. The government has no plan to provide adequate housing for the people.

“The environment, even in terms of land acquisition, is not favorable.

“The Land Use Act has made it that even after going through Omonile troubles; after going through the official trouble of getting your Certificate of Occupancy (CofO); then you want to build, but cost of building materials is prohibitive.

“You want loan, but nobody gives you loan. Then all of a sudden you see one clumsy law there saying you should not do this or that.

“Then the landlord says ‘okay, you don’t want me to do this abi?’

“They will find a way of doing it, anyway. It is simply because there is no sufficient housing for the people.

“So any attempt to regulate the activities of the owners will fail if the people do not have alternatives.

“The enforcement of this thing cannot be by the government, because how many are you going to enforce?

“There is no mechanism put together to monitor breaches or its prevalence and bring those who breach the law to justice.

“There is no such monitoring body, but you just made the law and put it out there and, of course, people read it and saw a lot of loopholes and started taking advantage of the gaps.

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“So the problem of that law has to do with what I call the ‘situation aspect’ and the ‘government aspect’ in terms of the fact that provision of adequate housing is not there.

“So it is still the law of demand and supply that is operating rather than the so-called Tenancy Law.

“Let me also tell you that the Tenancy Law of 1997 has good content which this one does not have.

“You know why? That law graduated accommodation knowing that government cannot afford to accommodate the citizenry.

“The law said okay, a location, say, Suru-lere, which is middle class, landlords here you can only go to this extent. You cannot exceed it.

“People in Ajegunle, lower class; this is where you must stay in terms of rent. People in Ikoyi, you can pay anything. There is no limit. Make your choice; but oga landlord you must have basic infrastructure in your house; and so if it’s not there, even if you have collected rent, you must refund it.

“This, to me, sounds better than you glibly saying don’t collect so-and-so rent.

“You do not have alternative accommodation for the people and there is no monitoring machinery to do this. It’s just to say, ‘my people this is the law I have made.’ It started failing from there. And it will continue to fail, because there is no alternative mass housing provision.

“The strangest one is when the law said, ‘Anybody that collects two years rent is guilty of an offence. Anybody that pays two years rent is guilty of an offence.

“So, until you collect, you have not committed an offence. Until you have given you’ve not committed an offence.

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“Now who is going to report a breach? Is it the person that is giving you because he will be the first offender, since without giving there will be no receiving? The first offender is not the landlord but the tenant. That is the issue.

“Is it the tenant that will report the breach or the landlord? The person who pays (tenant) is as guilty as the person who is receiving (landlord).

“Then when you go to report yourself, the person who collected will simply say I didn’t receive o. And so your own confession will lead you to prison immediately.

“The landlord will, of course, defend himself that he did not collect anything, and thus get exonerated.

“So the question remains, who is going to report? Who is going to report the breaches?

“That is why as the Executive Director of Tenancy Watch we are trying to form a people’s platform to draft a tenancy law that we feel will reflect the yearnings of the people, while protecting the interest of the government.

“We are doing our research, because we want to do what will stand the test of time.

“We are doing comparative review of global best practice to come up with something that will stand the test of time.

“Here government will make input, landlords will make input, and even tenants will make inputs which will be lead to either the amendment or repeal of the Tenancy Law in Lagos.”

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