The combined impact of job losses, unemployment, low productivity and reduced household and organizations ’ income has, in a very significant way, made the rental market quite volatile with landlords and tenants enduring frayed relationships.
The market has, in the course of the recession that is ravaging the nation’s economy, witnessed high level of rent default that has pitched landlords in cold war with their tenants.
In all of this, both the landlords and tenants have been advised not to go to court to settle any dispute or disagreement arising from house rent or poor attitude of one towards another because such disagreement or dispute could be settled within themselves.
Some landlords normally take their tenants to court to recover their property and/or outstanding rent (if any) while some tenants visit the court to seek protection from unjust treatment from landlords, but experts in dispute resolution advise that as much as practicable, landlords should not take their tenants to court and vice versa.
Valentino Buoro, President, Landlords and Tenants Rights Initiative, a Lagos-based non-government organization (NGO), says there are more viable options for settling any dispute or disagreement between these parties than going to court.
According to him, landlords and tenants should always see their relationship as that of a husband and wife and therefore, should not take one another to court. He notes that most of the landlord–tenant quarrels relate to rent increase and other of variables, pointing out that there are just two words that can cause this quarrel namely, money and attitude.
“The landlord may need more money which the tenant may not have. Sometimes, 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 and/or is not paying rents regularly”, he explained.
When disagreement arises over these factors, he stressed, the court should not be the best place to go, disclosing that here in Lagos, there are two places where people could go for mediation, namely Citizens Mediation Centre and Lagos Multi-door Court House.
The Citizens Mediation Centre is free, he said, adding that this is the place where the mediator only brings the two contending people together and settles their quarrel in a way that will be pleasant to both of them and at no cost.
At the Lagos Multi-door Court House on Lagos Island, landlords are settled with their tenants. The only difference here is that any settlement agreement signed there is taken to a high court judge who is dedicated to the multi-door house. Such a judge is called Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) judge.
According to him, this judge endorses such agreement, making it a judgment of the Lagos High Court and any of the parties that goes back on this agreement is punished the same way a man who flouts court judgment is punished.
He stressed that unilateral increase in rent is one area that has always caused conflict between landlords and their tenants, explaining that a lot of landlords make mistakes in this. “Some of them stand up and increase their house rents simply because there is a change in their financial situation. Such landlords hardly ask themselves whether the tenants are capable of paying.
The tenants might be salary-earners whose salaries might not have been increased in the past four to five years”, he said.
He informed that landlords-tenants relationship is a contract—an agreement between two people which, once they agree, before the contract is changed, both parties also have to agree again.
According to him, there is a law guiding landlords-tenants relationship “and that law is a peculiar kind of law that further regulates contract. Contract is supposed to be very brief.
“But landlords and tenants law regulates this contract and that is why there are rent control; that is why government can wake up and say a landlord cannot collect more than a certain amount of money for a given apartment. At that point, the law is not giving them free hand to contract; in other words, government is telling the landlord that he cannot charge more than the stipulated amount”, he said.