Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), has finally signed the long-awaited tenancy bill into law, despite the controversies that have trailed the concept of the law.
This is one of the major decisions most Lagos residents have expressed mixed reactions since Fashola’s second-term administration. Critics have quarrelled with some issues concerning the new law. For instance, opinions are divided about the state government’s bid to regulate what landlords can charge, whereas the government has failed to provide mass housing scheme to the citizenry, thus offering the tenants little or no choice.
Besides, the law does not address what landlords charge per se, but what length of time the charged rent is meant for. Critics argue that the caveat in the law does not protect tenants enough.
Also, the penalty for tenants who default in their responsibilities to their landlord does not seem clear, as some tenants could exploit this weakness of the law to frustrate their landlords.
The governor, who also assented to Lagos Park and Garden Bill at the Lagos House yesterday, signed the tenancy bill in the presence of the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeola Rahman Ipaye, and some members of the State Executive Council.
By the provision of the law, any landlord that collects rent in excess of six months from a sitting tenant and one year from a new tenant would either be jailed for three months or pay a fine of ₦100,000 on conviction.
In the case of forceful ejection of a tenant which involves the landlord going to remove the roof or doors to the apartment, the landlord would be jailed for six months or pay a fine of ₦250,000. Section 28 clearly states the enforcement procedures, which gives the state High Courts or Magistrate’s Courts the power to determine any matter brought before it accorded with the jurisdiction.
The section states that: “In any proceeding under this law, where a landlord refuses to accept the current rent from a tenant, the tenant may, upon application to the satisfaction of the court, pay such rent to the court's registry.
“The landlord in such a case shall, upon application to the satisfaction of the court, be entitled to collect the refused rent from the court, subject to the deduction of a sum of 10 per cent of the refused rent to be retained by the court.”
Before signing the bill, Fashola had said the new law would regulate the relationship between landlords and their tenants in the state, stressing that his administration “will soon embark on mass housing programme”.
According to him, “The issues at stake in the new laws are serious moral issues that require voluntary compliance rather than strict enforcement from government. The problem of corruption cannot be fought in the country with this kind of situation that requires a tenant to pay two or years rent in advance.”
The governor also explained that if property owners “make the sacrifice, many things will change for better as price indices will move in a more affordable direction and everyone will be better for it”.
He also said: “Let us remember that property owners are privileged when compared to tenants. This law seeks change of attitude, like it is done in all decent societies by asking the privileged to sacrifice a little so that the underprivileged can have a survival chance.”
Fashola asked rhetorically: “Can we truly expect life to return to normal and expect corruption to disappear if we continue to ask for two or three years’ rent advance? How many of our employees are paid their monthly salaries in advance? Has the time not come for us to change? Does the landlord really lose anything if the rent is paid as it falls due?”
The governor assured Lagosians that the law “protects both the tenants and the landlords. There is no need for the landlords and tenants to panic over the law. There are provisions in the law that makes it impossible for the tenant to be elusive and shy away from their obligations to the landlords”.
Speaking before the signing, the Attorney General, Ipaye, explained that, “it has become an offence for any landlord/property owner to collect more than six months’ rent from monthly tenants and one year rent from yearly tenants.
“The law which regulates the rights and obligations of both tenants and landlords also stipulates the recovery of premises with the defaulters paying the fine of ₦100,000.”
The attorney-general further explained that it “has become mandatory for all landlords in the state to issue receipts for money collected from their tenants”, including the one collected for maintenance in case of any damage.
Ipaye said the law also “deals with situations where tenants hide under the quit notice rules to occupy premises perpetually without paying rent. Now, in the case of monthly tenants, once the tenant is in arrears for six months, the tenancy shall lapse automatically and the court can make order for possession and arrears of rent”.
“The requirement that notice must always terminate on or after the date of expiration of the tenancy has also been removed under Section 13(4).The Bill will also control indiscriminate rent increase.
“Under Section 37(1), an existing or sitting tenant may apply to the court for an order declaring that the increase in rent payable under his tenancy agreement is unreasonable. However, in coming to a determination as to what is reasonable, the court will consider, among other things, the general level of rents for comparable premises in the locality,” he said.
Giving details of the Park and Garden Law, Ipaye said anybody that “walks on lawns rather than walkways or found defecating openly on the lawn, risks a jail term of one year or ₦50,000 fine”.
He said the new law "seeks the establishment of an agency that would ensure government policies concerning designated parks and gardens are implemented”, adding that the agency had been empowered by the law to collect fees from those using them (parks and gardens) for commercial purpose.
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Source: Thisday Live