by Mfon Ekpo
…it is unlawful and criminal for a landlord or his agent, to demand or receive from a sitting tenant, rent in excess of six months in respect of any premise…
The rule of law simply put, presupposes an environment where every thing is done in accordance with the law thereby excluding any form of arbitrariness and emphasizing the supremacy of the law. John Locke, in the later part of the 17th century, explained it this way, “Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to everyone in that society and made by the legislative power created in it and not to be subject to the inconsistent, unknown and arbitrary will of another man”. However, as in most budding democracies, there is still the conflict in Nigeria between theoretical principles and practical application as regards some laws. One of which is the law relating to housing especially as it concerns rent control.
Rent control being a residual matter under the 1999 Constitution means that most states in Nigeria have individual rent control laws. However, these rent control regulations highlight disastrous cases of regulation versus implementation.
Take for instance the Lagos State Rent Control & Recovery of Residential Premises Law of 1997. This law was supposed to regulate the rent chargeable to residential apartments in certain areas of Lagos State whose residences were at the time of its enactment not charging annual rental value in excess of N250,000 (Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira). This law amongst other provisions stipulated the standard rent for each type of residential accommodation in different locations of the State with the caveat that the standard rent shall only be subject to upward review of not more than 20 per cent every three years or at such other duration as the Governor of Lagos State may prescribe.
The law also made it unlawful for:
- The Landlord or his agent or the tenant to demand or pay rent in excess of the standard rent.
- The Landlord to demand or receive the prescribed standard rent for a period in excess of six months from a new tenant.
- A sitting tenant to offer and pay the standard rent in excess of a period of three months in respect of any type of residential accommodation to which the Lagos Rent Control Law applies.
The penalty prescribed was that any person who received or paid rent in excess of the standard rent established by law was guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N50,000.00 (Fifty Thousand Naira) or to a term of six months imprisonment.
While this was a brilliant piece of legislation, what obtained in practical terms up until 2011 was an obvious far cry from what the law prescribed.
In August 2011, the Lagos State Tenancy Bill (a bill to regulate rights and obligations under tenancy agreements and the relationship between the landlord and the tenant, including the procedure for the recovery of premises and for connected purposes) was passed into law. Under this new law, although there is no imposition on what the Landlord can charge as rent, there is however a prohibition on the collection of the popular two-year rent payment. The law stipulates that it is unlawful for any landlord or his agent, to demand or receive more than one year’s rent from a new tenant. It also stipulates that it is unlawful and criminal for a landlord or his agent, to demand or receive from a sitting tenant, rent in excess of six months in respect of any premise meaning those already live in tenants are not expected to pay more than six months in advance to their landlords.
The law further stipulates a fine of N100,000 or three years imprisonment, on any landlord or new tenant who pays in excess of one year’s rent, and a fine of N100, 000 or three months imprisonment for a landlord’s refusal to issue a receipt to a tenant for payment of rent.
Although the enforceability of this law is now in issue, it’s a given in any society that the rights we fight for as a society, we invariably protect. The enforceability of this kind of issue that has been given the seal of legislative approval , is fueled by conscious, consistent activism by an involved populace not by an indifferent and apathetic one.
Mfon Ekpo is a Maritime Lawyer and a professional negotiator, who has served in the Legal department of the National Assembly and as a training consultant for the Supreme Court of Nigeria on Alternative Dispute Resolution. She has majored in Business Law, Private and Islamic law and Aviation law. She is also a multiple award-winning bestselling author.
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