In this piece, Bamidele Jonathan reviews the challenges facing the implementation of tenancy law in Lagos State and suggest solutions
Tenancy is as old as civilisation itself. It is part of all stages of civilisation – ancient, middle ages, industrial and technological eras. The scope of this article shall be limited to Nigerian tenancy in the post colonial era with special reference to Lagos State. It is the currently enacted new Tenancy Laws of Lagos State that moitivated the writing of this article as the contribution of the author to the laws.
Firstly, the Lagos State tenancy is in the spirit of 1979 constitution and an improvement on the Lagos State 1996 Rent Control Tribunal Edict. Section 17(2)(d) of 1979 constitution states that, “The state shall direct its policy towards ensuring that suitable and adequate shelter, food, water supply,… are provided for all citizens.”
Also the Lagos State 1996 Rent Control Tribunal Edict provides for “the establishment of rent tribunals for the determination and control of standard rent of residential premises and for other purposes…”
In addition to the fact that the new law is in line with the constitution, it is also an improvement of 1996 Rent Control Tribunal Edict as many areas of tenancy not addressed by RCTE were covered by the new law. For instance, security of tenure is better guaranteed; it frowns at forcible ejection of tenants; unreasonable rent and arbitrary increase of rent, as well as advance payment were addressed.
The unavailability of houses is still a major set back to the implementation of the law. It is a known fact that law alone cannot be required to increase the available housing stock; therefore concrete measures are required to address the housing crises – which is at the root of the problem of housing including the one that gave rise to the tenancy law.
The advancement of the 2011 law over that of 1996 RCTE goes beyond the items covered, it treated some major lapses of 1996 RCTE, which include:
• The new law makes provisions for the Magistrates’ and High Courts to entertain legal issues relating to tenancy. This is an improvement over the situation where Tribunal wass set up as provided for in 1996 RCTE. The setting up of the Tribunal for the purpose is a violation of Article 10 of the basic principle on the Independence of the Judiciary which states that any person without legal training cannot administer legal issues. The new trend will strengthen the capacity of the existing Magistrates and the High Court.
•The Tribunal members has no security of tenure because the Military Administrators could hire and fire them at will. Even the tenure of Military Administrators themselves are not guaranteed; how much more that of the Tribunal members. But the Magistrates and the Judges of High Court had secure tenure which could fast track issues being raised in legal issues.
•The six months given by the 1996 RCTE to tenants to look for alternative accommodation had been replaced by the normal legal process which can protect the interest of the tenants without jeopardising that of the landlords.
This article is to outline some lapses in this new law and those in the previous ones that were not covered also in the new law.
Some of the ste desire to see a perfect working tenancy laws and relationship by taking practical steps using one stone to kill many birds at once among which are:
• A tenancy relationship that will give an account for our housing stocks and updating the same regularly
• While the landlord are in possession of their property physically and economically, the government through this law should be legally controlling housing stock
• Using the mechanism of actualising this tenancy laws and relationship to bring the incidence of building failures into barest minimum
• To also enhance the workability of the New National Building Code.
•To put the professional in the built environment in practical and technical control of the field in place of the quacks who are currently in charge of the bulk of their practice.
The law’s loophole
Firstly, the core issue in housing is that of the stock which must be available before we talk of tenancy. Those who are involve in housing (at all levels) in Lagos State knows that the law cannot operate effectively in the present situation. A Lagos-based Lawyer, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu (The Punch, Friday December 9, 2011) said the efficacy of the Law, as ambitious as it is, can only be predicated on a robust housing scheme. The way it is now, tenants are being caught between ambitious desire of government to mitigate the high tenancy rate and the reality of paucity of housing facilities in the State.”
The situation where demand is far higher than supply reduces the opportunity for legal claims by the accommodation seekers. This is because the landlord and their agents will push such aside in the presence of alternative tenants who are ready to pay any amount even when it is ridiculous.
Therefore, the core issue is that housing stock needs to be increased to a level whereby there will be alternative for tenants. It is under such condition that the law will achieve the desired goals.
However, beyond legality, practical administrative step that can enhance the implementation of the new law is missing. In the same The Punch of Friday December 9, 2011 a tenant (Collins Duru) suggested that a task force should be put in place to ensure compliance with the law.
Furthermore, time constraints to go to courts or purse legality is readily not available to most accommodation seekers who may be workers. The employers will not have the time to give an employee to be pursuing legal matters at the expense of the time for work. How many tenants or accommodation seekers can even afford the legal fees or have the time to go to court if an exorbitant rent is demanded from them?
The way forward
First and foremost, there is the need to increase housing stock. The rate at which stock of houses increases cannot guarantee an increase in stock that is proportional to the actual housing needs. Many houses that are built by individuals take almost a life span and requires the bulk of their income. The alternative is to remain in the hand of the landlords whose only purpose building houses is to make profit on investment. The government’s housing schemes and houses provided by private developer are actually out of the reach of the needy ( especially for low-income class forming not less than 50 per cent of those who need house in Lagos). Therefore, the same landlords who are having the purchasing power buy over the new housing units for letting.
The lack of a promising and efficient mortgage system has excluded even the working class who can pay the mortgage from their salaries. Employers (first public and the organised private sector next) should take the lead in providing insurance coverage and as guarantor of the first home owner to get a house within the first five years of employment. It should be adopted as a policy. This is all the private sector in the business of building houses for sale needs to start off massive housing for the low and middle income class in fixed income structures. The government can reduce their involvement in actual construction to essential needs and basic social housing. The task will be of policy formulation, implementation and evaluation of the policy. The issue of mass housing should be encouraged by the government.
The government and the interested private sectors, especially the developers should be interested in financing such ventures that will lead to more social housing that will use 100 per cent local building materials. The cooperative housing should be further encouraged as this will cover, the low and middle income classes not in the employment of public or organised private sectors. All measures to activate a functional housing circle to increase the housing stock should be encouraged.
In addition to courts, the citizens mediation centres should be involved in settling issues related to this law. The existing task force in the zonal planning office or at the central planning office should be mobilised to get involved in this process by enforcing the National Building Code in the area of Certificate of Fitness for use and habitation. For a new house, a copy of this certificate should be pasted on the building which the task force will freely access. This same certificate should be renewed every five years. The tenants should be empowered to request for the current copy of this certificate pasted on the wall or should not pay rent to any landlord or agent. The tenants should report the same to the task force for action. Any house that is not having a pasted copy of this certificate should be warned twice and at the third time cause the house to be sealed off and such landlord and the tenants be charged to court for living in an unfit house. Any professional consultant that will sign a certificate of fitness that is false or the structure fails should be held responsible by the court of law for professional misconduct and for criminal offence.
Moreover, the issue of building failures will be reduced to barest minimum, as the consultants will be held responsible for every building under the Law. This will also empowered the government and its agencies to have a grip hold on premises under the Law beyond pre-construction and construction stage. Though these provisions are there in the National Building Code (section 13 (ii)) but it is high time it was put into use. It is called Building Condition Survey Report and Building Maintenance Manual which shall be the bases of renewal of the previous Certificate of Fitness every 5 years.
Finally the poor maintenance culture that Nigerians are known for will become a past as the structure must be in the minimum standard before consultants will put their signature on the Certificate of Fitness. These premises should be inspected once a year by the task force of the Code from the planning office without notice to the landlord and the tenants.
These suggestions if followed, will contribute to making the new tenancy more productive to serve its place in our society.
– Jonathan, an architect, writes from Lagos.