Landlord-tenant friction worsens on escalating cost-of-living crisis

On incremental basis, cost-of-living crisis in Nigeria is escalating and, in more ways than one, it is impacting on health, finances and access to basic needs of individuals, organisations and families.

It is also brewing ill-feeling among friends, family members, landlords and their tenants, among others. More than ever before, expectations and obligations are no longer being met.

One major development that has come with this crisis is that everybody, especially families, are now prioritising their needs and this action favours feeding and getting well which means that family budgets now lean more towards food and health.

It follows that housing which is ranked second, after food, in the hierarchy of man’s basic needs, is now being treated as a luxury item, meaning that those who live in rented accommodation, and they are quite many, are unable to meet their rent obligations to their landlords.

On account of growing poverty among citizens, job losses and shrinking income arising from bad economy, many tenants find it difficult to pay their rents which breeds friction between them and their landlords.

BusinessDaySunday findings show that this friction is getting worse by the day with the escalating cost of living crisis, making the landlords jittery because tenants are unable to pay their rents while the tenants are furious with the landlords for their arbitrary rent increase on the other hand.

A report on The State of Real Estate Market in Nigeria compiled by Pison Housing Company gives a sense and dimension of this friction. The report says Nigeria is one of the most active rental markets globally with about 80 percent of its estimated 200 million population living in rented accommodation and spending over 50 percent of their income on house rent.

“Frequently, landlords and tenants quarrel over sundry issues including inability to pay rents on the part of the tenants and/or landlords’ high-handedness and near-impossible demands. Some of these quarrels often lead both parties to court cases which, rather than improve their relationship, worsens it and leads to quitting the tenant from the house,” Henry Ezike, an estate agent and consultant, confirmed to our reporter on Thursday last week.

Dominic Ulu is a Lagos resident living in Olodi Apapa area of Lagos. His relationship with his landlord, Alahaji Ajibade, is no better than that of a cat and dog. They are always quarrelling over delayed, unpaid or increased house rent which Ulu considers too exploitative on the part of the landlord.

“My landlord is insensitive; at a time like this in Nigeria when everybody is struggling to eat, he is increasing my rent. What manner of man is that? Is he blind or deaf? Let him do his worst; I don’t have a dime to pay him,” Ulu told our reporter who learnt from other tenants that the landlord has taken his case to a customary court.

Similarly, Ebenezer Okonjo, who lives in Ejigbo area of Lagos, is digging it out with his landlord over arbitrary and frequent rent increases.

“I rented this house from the father of my present landlord. He was living in London then. Now he has come back after his father’s death and the first thing he did was to increase our rent,” Okonjo told our reporter.

Continuing, he said, “When I told him I won’t be able to pay a second rent increase, he told me to relocate to my village; that Lagos is not meant for everybody. I felt insulted and told him to his face that he was a wicked man. He quickly gave me a quit notice which I refused to collect from him. Since then, it has been an uneasy calm between us.”

Beyond rent increases, attitudes especially in the case of landlords with exploitative tendencies, could also breed friction in a landlord-tenant relationship as reflected in our findings which show that, generally, the plight of tenants range from unjustifiable rent increases, outrageous service charge particularly on power supply, and disturbance from the landlords.

A teacher in a Lagos private school, who did not want to be named, told our reporter that he and his family rented an apartment in the Ifako-Ijaye area of the state, but his three-year stay in that apartment was a tug of war with his landlord.

“I secured a 2-bedroom flat in that area so that I can spend less on transport fare as the house is close to my place of work. The landlord collected a year rent along with agreement and commission. My experience there was not rosy. The landlord made us pay for almost every damage/renovation of the house,” he revealed.

“One thing that got me irritated was the landlord’s habit of reminding me that my rent would soon be due as if I didn’t know my responsibility. In my third year, he increased my rent by 30 percent. I couldn’t cope because my salary could not carry it. I left the place,” he added.

Akunne Benedict, who resides in Ojokoro area of the state, poured out her frustration with her landlord’s exploitative tendencies, explaining that the man was fond of hiding power bill from tenants in order to make them pay for what they did not consume.

“The landlord lives with us. We are five in number. We hardly see power bill, yet we would be asked to pay as high as N50,000, which is shared among five of us. We have complained to him on several occasions, but he is adamant; he often tells us to leave his house if we are not pleased with the rules,” he lamented.

Ezike advised that there should be a chicken and egg relationship between landlords and tenants because they are or should be mutually beneficial to each other. But most times, especially in the cities where demand for housing far outstrips supply, there seems to be a master-servant relationship with the landlord assuming the position of a master.

“With the difficult economic situation Nigerians find themselves, cases of rent default are on the increase and so is the friction between the landlords and their tenants,” he stressed, pointing out that while the tenants are complaining of rising food prices, energy and transportation costs, the landlords are adding to their burden with rent increase.

“But if you look at the case critically, you find that it is difficult to apportion blame, because the landlords, especially those who live on rent from their houses, are also affected by the high cost of living in the country. They too buy from the same market and have to maintain or renovate their houses at a time when building material prices, especially cement, have hit the roof-top,” he said.

Titus Ijalade, an estate broker, agrees, noting that most of the landlords are retirees and elderly individuals, who rely wholly on rent for their livelihood. “If you take a survey on the employment status of landlords in Nigeria, you will realize that about 60 percent are retirees or out of job, who rely on their property to survive. So, their behaviour is not intentional,” Ijalade said.

Though the friction between landlords and tenants is more pronounced in low-income settlements where most tenants are struggling with meagre income, the middle and high-income areas also have their own version of the friction, usually arising more from default in paying service charge than rent.

Serviced estates have also been hit-hard by rising costs, especially energy, which has seen managers of these estates mark-up power tariff and also reduce hours of power supply down to 12-14 hours.

The price of diesel has jumped to N1,300 per litre due to oil subsidy removal which has affected prices of consumer products coupled with the naira devaluation and the high inflationary trend.

Managers at serviced estates are, expectedly, pushing the increase in the diesel price to the residents who are also battling with rising food prices, children’s school fees, increased transport costs and other service charges.

An estate manager, who did not want to be mentioned, told the residents that it was getting pretty difficult providing power to the estate because proceeds generated from the purchase of electric token could not cover the cost of their monthly power expenses.

He, therefore, served the residents notice of tariff increase from N195.00/kilowatt to N250.00/kilowatt, citing a market survey showing a few estates that supply 24-hour power where tariff is now N350.00/kilowatt, which is about 79 percent increase from N195.00 per kilowatt.

MKO Balogun, Group CEO, Global Properties and Facilities International (PFI), confirmed to our reporter that, “yes, power cost has gone up as well as other costs, including employees, materials and consumables. All these are impacted by the current inflationary trends as well as changes in the cost of living.”

Olalekan Akinwumi, president, Nigerian Facility Managers Association, also affirmed that the situation was challenging such that every fabric of services has really gone up. “The diesel cost and general mains supply are not encouraging service apartments and the occupants are not happy with their managers,” he said.

Read also: Residents suffer as power tariff at serviced estates spikes 79% on high diesel cost

In all these circumstances, mediation and conflict resolution experts advise that landlords and tenants should conduct themselves maturely by not going to court to settle a dispute or disagreement over house rent or poor attitude of one towards the other as has been the case over the years.

They say parties to such disagreement or dispute should settle it within themselves, noting that some landlords normally take their tenants to court to recover their property and/or outstanding rent while some tenants visit the court to seek protection from unjust treatment from landlords.

“As much as practicable, landlords should not take their tenants to court and vice versa; there are more viable options for settling any dispute or disagreement between these parties. Landlords and tenants should always see their relationship as those of husbands and wives and therefore, should not take one another to court,” a property lawyer, who pleaded anonymity, advised.

According to the lawyer “the landlord may need more money which the tenant does not have or the landlord may not be looking for more money but the attitude of the tenant is horrible; maybe he is bringing in bad friends into the compound or is not paying rents regularly. In either case, peace should be allowed to reign, especially now that everybody is struggling.”

[Business Day]

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