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Landlords edgy over house rents as coronavirus shuts down workplaces

Landlords in Nigeria, unlike their counterparts in advanced economies, are anxious over what may be their fate in the hands of their tenants in the days and months ahead, especially those of them who are workers that have been forced home from their workplaces by the rampaging coronavirus.

As a way of cushioning the impact of COVID-19 on their citizens, some governments in the advanced countries of the world have suspended rent payment while the crisis lasts. France is one such country.

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In Nigeria, there are indications that many tenants whose house rents are due this March or will be due in the coming months will struggle to pay considering that workers and traders alike are now cooling off at home on government directives to prevent the spread of the dreaded COVID-19.

What will happen after this pandemic in terms of income loss and job losses is better left to the imagination. “But it is going to be tough; it will test our attitude to shared humanity and prosperity,” Joseph Nfon, a social commentator, predicted.

In Lagos State, for instance, where there are already 30 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 infection, the state government is taking stringent and far-reaching decisions aimed at containing and preventing the spread of the virus.

Besides shutting down all public and private schools, the state has also directed all its civil and public servants from Grade Level 1-12 to stay at home for the next 14 days beginning from Monday, March 23.

All social gatherings have also been banned, leading the cancellation of many conferences and social events that had been scheduled for this month and the next. Beginning from tomorrow, Thursday, March 26, all markets for non-essential commodities will be shut down for seven days.

“However we look at, or think about all that, what they mean is loss of income. Many companies may not be able to pay salaries immediately after all this crisis. The traders’ income comes from what they sell in a day. So, you don’t expect somebody who has no income to be thinking of paying house rents,” Iyabode Oludare, a landlady in Ejigbo, a Lagos suburb, told BusinessDay.

Oludare whose house is occupied mainly by Lagos State civil servants and a few traders, lamented that the loss of rental income will also affect her family. “As a widow, nobody provides for me. I depend on the house rents I collect to live and train my children,” she said.

Williams Adekoya is a retired civil servant who owns a six-flat building in one of the middle class settlements in Lagos. All his tenants except one are civil and public servants. Apart from the one who is self-employed, the rest of the tenants are “working from home”.

Adekoya’s worry is that the rents from these tenants will be due in May and June. “Nobody knows when this trouble will be over. Even if it is over next month, it will not be morally right to start asking for house rent, more so when all of us are in it together. But I have no other source of income,” he said resignedly.

But an estate surveyor and valuer, who did not want to be named, was very blunt when he said, “what is paramount in the mind of everyone now is survival. There is no economic activity anywhere now; even those paying rent will have to generate economic activity to have the capacity to pay.”

He affirmed that the present situation was going to affect the ability of some tenants to pay and would  pose a further challenge of rent collection as at when due. “Some people may even lose their jobs as things are going. But they’ll still live in a house,” he noted.

The estate surveyor pointed out that it was going to be “wide landlord lamentations” because both the residential and commercial property—office space, retail malls, sundry shops and warehouses—will be affected.

Already, events centre operators are counting their losses arising from the ban on social gatherings. The social distancing rule is also affecting offices where most workers have been asked by their employers to work from home. “So, it is going to be really tough when this storm is over,” the estate surveyor stressed.

 

CHUKA UROKO

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