Tenant rights are more important than you probably realise and the first step towards protecting your rights as a tenant is to know what those rights are. Without knowing these rights, you put yourself at the mercy of landlords and caretakers in Nigeria
Who is a Tenant?
A tenant is a person who occupies land or property rented from a landlord and is subject to the payment of rent. With this established, let us proceed to examine tenant rights and what they mean to you as a tenant in Nigeria.
1. Right to Issuance of Receipt of Payment
As a tenant, it is important that you pay your rent but it is not considered proof of the existence of tenancy until payment is made. One of the reasons why it is an essential part of a tenancy is because it does the following:
It is first and foremost, a proof of payment
Helps the court calculate the precise time frame for a valid quit notice especially in a situation where there is no agreement
Needed to counter and clear allegations of your refusal or inability to adhere to timely payment of rent
The receipt of payment is an acknowledgement from your landlord that he/she received payment from you
For the receipt of payment to be considered valid, it must contain the following:
- Your name as well as the name of the landlord
- The specific amount of money that was paid as rent
- The date the payment was made
- The type of property for which the rent was paid. For instance, was it a 2-bedroom apartment, a mini-flat or a detached house?
- The period of time that the rent paid is expected to cover. For instance, was the rent paid to cover a year, 2 years or 6 months?
- The signature of the person receiving the payment must also be on the receipt.
Did you know that it is actually an actionable offence for the landlord to decline the issuance of receipt of payment to you? Even in a situation where you are only making a partial payment of rent for the property, a receipt still needs to be issued to you.
In the absence of a printed receipt, a written agreement, which is endorsed by the landlord in the presence of a witness stating that he/she has received payment from you will be considered a valid receipt of payment. This is in line with tenant rights.
Regardless of how cordial your relationship is with your landlord, always insist of being issued a receipt upon payment of your rent
2. Right to Written Agreement
Agreements can either be oral or written but experts advised that you should opt for a written agreement. A written agreement removes all elements of doubt and ambiguity around the intention of all parties involved (you and the landlord). This is backed by tenant rights.
According to the law, tenancy agreements above 3 years are mandated to be written while those lesser than 3 years can either be oral or written. Experts have however advised that even if your tenancy is for 2 weeks, you should opt for a written agreement. Details that should be included in a written agreement include:
- Your name as well as the name of the landlord
- Details of the type of property that is being rented out
- The location of the property you are renting as well as the features that come with it
- The period of time for which the rent will cover
- The amount of money that is being paid as rent
- The duration of ‘quit notice’ to be served by the landlord
- The person responsible for repair works within and around the property
- The person who bears the responsibility for expenses like water, electricity and sanitation bills
- A post office stamp should be affixed to make it acceptable in court as an evidence
- Before a written agreement can be considered valid, both parties (you and the landlord) are to execute the agreement by signing and dating it with at least one witness each
You need to be careful with your written agreement because landlords are known to duplicate a single agreement and use this for all their tenancy agreements. The downside of this is that such an agreement leaves certain intentions unexpressed.
Stay on the lookout for agreements that are drafted by the landlord’s lawyer and handed over to you. Such agreements have a reputation of being confusing and unfavourable to you in the long run. What you want to do here is to have a property lawyer to help you look into such agreements to spot anything that has been planted there to work against you one way or the other. Your lawyer then advises you on what to add and what you need to pull out.
Never jump into an agreement orally or without a property lawyer to guide you. Don’t let your current relationship with your landlord becloud your judgement. Relationships can go sour, which can leave you in a difficult situation in the absence of an agreement that is legally binding on you and the landlord.
3. Right to Occupy Rented Property in Peace
The moment you pay your rent and append your signature on a written agreement, you earn the right to occupy the rented property in peace. When you become a tenant, you have legal and equitable right over the rented space. Your tenant rights make you entitled to this.
This right is absolute and you can sue trespassers; your landlord or caretaker are not exempted from this. The landlord still owns the property and is free to maintain the property but this has to be done with your knowledge. All forms of maintenance should be done at reasonable hours of the day. For instance, a landlord cannot decide to cut down a huge mango tree at 11:30pm.
Upon renting the property out to you, the landlord temporarily relinquishes his control of the property over to you up until the expiration of your tenancy. A landlord can only trample on your rights as a tenant when you are ignorant of such rights.
In a case where your landlord abuses this right, don’t hesitate to inform your property lawyer or the closest police station.
4. Right to Valid Quit Notice Before Eviction
As a tenant, your landlord is not legally empowered to throw you or your valuables out of his/her property without a valid notice to quit the property.
Before your landlord can get you to quit his/her property, there must be strict compliance with the Recovery of Premises Law and it has to be relevant. Your tenant rights makes you entitled to this.
According to the Recovery of Premises Law, a valid Quit Notice (Notice to Quit) must be written and served on you before your landlord can terminate your tenancy. The law is very clear on this.
The duration of the Quit Notice varies according to the conditions of your tenancy as seen below:
A one-year (or above) tenancy will require at least a notice of 6 months
A one-month tenancy will require a minimum notice of one month
A one-week tenancy will require a minimum notice of one week
It is important to add here that you and the landlord can agree on a totally different duration for the quit notice in the written agreement. What this means, for instance, is that despite the fact that the law stipulates that your landlord should give you a notice of 6 months to quit a tenancy of one year, it can be reduced to a month or a week’s notice through the written and signed agreement.
Never forget that the law does not care to know if you understood what you were signing or not. In law, this is known as ‘ignorantia legis non excuse‘ (ignorance of the law is no excuse). If you sign a legal agreement that limits your rights, you will be bound by the same agreement. Under the law, this is known as ‘volenti non fit injuria.’
Did you know that if you owe your landlord rent for your property for 3 consecutive months, the landlord has the right to issue you a ‘Notice to Quit.’
5. Right to a Compulsory 7 Days Notice to Recover Premises
Under the Nigerian law, you are entitled to a compulsory ‘7 Days Notice to Recover Premises.’ This notice comes from your landlord’s lawyer to notify you that the lawyer will proceed to court after 7 days of serving you this notice, recover the over- held premises on behalf of the landlord.
This 7-day notice comes after the expiration of the initial notice to you to quit the property. The additional 7 days notice serves to legally protect you from being forcefully ejected or humiliated. It also gives you sufficient time to quit the property.
We should add here that the ‘7 Days Notice to Recover Premises’ can only be served upon the expiration of the initial quit notice. The 7 days notice is to be calculated from the day after the service of the notice on the tenant and not from the day of service. If it is served before a ‘Quit Notice’ or during the lifespan of a ‘Quit Notice,’ it is rendered invalid.
Final Thoughts on Tenant Rights
Regardless of the neighbourhood where the property you are renting is situated, the law is clear on what a landlord can and cannot do. Tenant rights are clear. To avoid being manipulated into appending your signature to dubious tenancy agreements that can come back to haunt you, consider hiring a real estate lawyer to protect your interest.