By Mustapha Ogunsakin, and Ibrahim Ikowe
Ms Adenike Onasanya is very pissed right now. For almost a year, she had been looking for an accommodation in Lagos. A professional insurance broker, Ms Onasanya relocated from Abuja back to Lagos sometime in 2018 due to her belief that her music career will get a boost. But getting an accommodation has been a herculean task.
The single mother of a beautiful daughter has had Estate agents introduce her to many houses but the landlords turned her down. “The first question they ask is where is your husband?”, she told Gavel International in an interview.
Ms Onasanya is just one of the women, single mothers or outrightly single ladies that face this predicament in Lagos. Most landlords or property owners dread giving their properties to unmarried women. In fact, it is easier for the proverbial needle to pass through a camel’s ear than for single women to rent a home in Lagos.
Most women too have devised means to fool the landlords. They ask their male friends, relatives, or they rent a male to pose as their husband at their meetings with prospective landlords. By the time the lie is detected, the tenant would have moved in, and this usually laid the foundation for conflict between landlord and tenant.
Mrs Biola Oseni, the Director, Citizens Mediation Center (CMC) of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice in an interview with Gavel International reporter, Ibrahim Ikowe revealed that her center had resolved 12,175 cases of landlord-tenant conflict between January and September 2020.
Coupled with these problems is the highly exorbitant rents and additional charges a tenant has to pay before he or she could rent a house.
But why would an average Lagos landlord be apprehensive about renting his house out to a woman?
An Estate Manager with Nu-Creation Properties Limited, Mrs Remi Garuba opined that most landlords find women problematic and as such, they refrain from giving house to them. “Most landlords believe that it is the responsibility of men to pay rent. They therefore believe that single women will in the long run, not be able pay rent and would prove difficult to evict. Besides, the issue of morality also comes in. Most landlords believe single women will always bring different men into the house, which most landlords detest”.
Mrs Garuba cited the example of a landlady, a single mother herself, who out of compassion gave out her house to a widow with children. “For two years now, she(widow) has not paid her rent and the landlady has left her out of compassion”, she said.
Alhaji Oloruntosin, a landlord at Eweje Street, Mushin, Lagos agreed with Mrs Garuba on the issue. When asked if he can rent an apartment in his house to a single lady or a single mother, he replied: ” If you do so, it means you are inviting problems in your house, because different, different men and women will be coming to her and you don’t know who is who among the visitors”.
“What if she is a good woman?” He answered: How can you know if she is good? So to avoid trouble in your house, don’t accept single mums. If a woman has a husband, whenever she is going astray, the man will call her to order and she will obey. Most women who are single refused to be controlled by a man and that is why they are single”, he said.
Alhaji Bashir Jara, a landlord in Igando area of Lagos, and former presenter, Wazobia programme on MITV shared the same opinion with Alhaji Oloruntosin. “It is not proper to give a single mother an apartment. Men run away from trouble and naging women. It might even be the reason why they are single. If something happens and the government comes in, the first thing to ask is where is her husband? That is when you will see your foolishness”, he said.
Despite the discrimination, the rent and charges landlords places of properties in Lagos is so prohibitive. Most landlords have found ways to compromise Lagos Tenancy Law 2011 that controls the relationship between landlords and tenants in the sprawling city. Alarmed by the conflicts between these categories of Lagosians, the government under former governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN promulgated the law through Lagos State House of Assembly.
Under the law, it is a criminal offence for a landlord to collect more than one year rent from a tenant. It also specifies the procedures through which a landlord has to go through before he could evict a tenant from a house.
However, over the years, both tenants and landlords have compromised the law, basically because of their different needs. Tenants who are desperately looking for an accommodation in a choking city would do anything the landlord demands. The landlord too, who sees the law only favorable to tenants, and looking for money, will make demands from tenants.
One of the ways of the compromise is that landlords demand more than one year’s rent from tenants, which is a crime under the law.
Section 4(3) of Lagos Tenancy Law states: “It shall be unlawful for a landlord or his agent to demand or receive from a new or would be tenant rent in excess of one year in respect of any premises”.
There are instances where both parties have agreed to more than one year’s rent. Agents who spoke to Gavel International mentioned instances that they preferred not to be disclosed. Others mentioned instances where the landlord will prefer tenants on lease for several years on lease rather than one year rent.
The Chief Executive of AT-Daniels Realtors, Pastor Yemi Olayinka confirmed that there are tenants who prefer leaseholds to one year tenancy. “Most foreign companies, particularly Chinese, prefer leaseholds rather than on year tenancy”, he said, citing an example of two landlords, one with a Chinese tenant, and the other with a Nigerian tenant. The one with Chinese got more money on lease while his counterpart with Nigerian tenants could only get a year’s rent.
Another very frustrating issue is that of charges. A tenant is expected to pay agency fee, legal or agreement fee, damages and Value Added Tax(VAT) on any rentable property. Pastor Olayinka regarded the charges as standard. However, all these charges, our investigation reveals, go to the pocket of the landlord, except the agency fee which goes to the estate agent.
Landlords in densely populated areas of the state prefer to draw their own agreements and collect the fees rather than engaging the services of a lawyer. In most cases, the charges which are expected to be ten per cent of the rent put additional pressure on tenants. Ms Onasanya for instance told Gavel International that she paid almost N300,000 in charges on a two bedroom apartment she rented for N600,000, thereby increasing all the expenses to N900,000.
Most tenants are particularly angry that they have to pay caution or damages fee on a property they are yet to occupy. Pastor Olayinka explained that the reason behind payment of caution fee is to repair broken facilities after a tenant must have vacated the property. “Most people just leave a property in the most damaging state when leaving, leaving the landlord or the incoming tenant to fix the place again”, he said.
But in most cases, the landlord takes advantage of a new tenant’s desperation to move in. Most tenants hardly wait for landlords to carry out repairs. They do it by themselves because the landlord is deliberately too slow in carrying out the repairs. In any case, most tenants prefer to repair according to their own taste. The damages fee therefore ends as free money for the landlords.
Hon Auwalu Shadow, a resident of Agege area of Lagos State who just rented an apartment recounted his experience. “I paid 60,000 for agreement, N60,000 commission, N20,000 for damages of property I have not used. The main rent is N300,000, so the total was N440,000.
But why should I pay for damages of a house that I am yet to live in. You see how everything is upside-down in Lagos when it comes to housing issues. My former house where I was living was good, I didn’t owe them, but my landlord died about two years ago. His children now gave me quit notice, so I left the house and now I’m in a new house as you can see”.
Mr Rahim Olalekan, Manager of Liberty Deez Venture opined that both landlords and the tenants compromise when they think they have the advantage. “You know Lagos is always congested, a lot of people come into Lagos every day by all means. That is why this housing problem in Lagos will always remain high”, he said, adding that “if we all have houses no single mother will be going round looking for accommodation. It is a big failure on the part of the government over its inability to provide adequate housing for Nigerians since the independence till date”.
Mr Olalekan cited the example of new market building erected at Ile-Epo market at Agbado-Oke Odo LCDA. “When the government builds houses in the name of the masses, the families of those in government are put in charge, who in turn sell those houses to their friends, families and so on. Take the example Ilepo Market.
Before the building, you only need a little capital to enter the market, buy and sell. After the modern market, it is a totally different set of people who can afford millions. Atarodo or Tatashe (tomato/pepper seller) whose capital is 10.00 naira cannot afford it, only the rich can. These kind of buildings should only be allocated to the poor people, but in Nigeria is the opposite way”
Hon Shadow has a word for government: “My advice to the government is that they should accelerate all housing programs, and make it affordable for people with little income to participate in such housing programs”, he concluded.