• Sunday, July 21, 2024
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Landlord-tenant conflict (2)

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I had a herculean task attending to the torrents of calls that visited the publication of the first edition of this Article. This is a testimony to the fact that Conflict is a common place in Landlord-Tenant endeavor. Unfortunately, these conflicts are needless and totally avoidable if only people will learn to do the needful and take the right step ab-initio. Unfortunately, most victims of property irregularities and conflicts play the ostrich game. They take to short cuts believing that issues will never arise. By so doing, they open themselves up to avoidable adverse situations that will eventually make nonsense of all they have invested in the process. The laws are very specific and detailed enough to spell out every party’s responsibilities. All that needs to be done is to locate the position of the law and hang on to it. If every party acts within the ambit of the law, there will be fewer crises to contend with. Resources dissipated on needless litigations and conflict related measures can be saved and subsequently divested to other better economic endeavors. We must be up and doing. No Housing transaction is too little or too large to accommodate legal experts. Lawyers are not army of occupation or engaged in winner-takes-all adventures. Charges are usually directly proportionate to the sum total involved in the transactions. If a particular lawyer feels a transaction is too meager to occupy his time, move on to the one that has a human face. You will get attend to and save yourself the agony of responding to unsavourvery legal issues that could be thrown up by such omissions.

A reader called me from Portharcourt on Sunday evening after reading the first edition of this article. He narrated his ordeal in the hands of a landlord. According to him, almost all his entire earnings have been swallowed up by this particular matter. He said he got this two-room self-contained from his current landlord sometimes in 2013. He paid all necessaries and uneccessaries. He was promised heaven and earth by the landlord during the negotiation. Borehole, security, fence and all what not were all promised. As soon as the land lord collected the rent and a sum almost more than the rent as charges covering Agency, Commission, Refundable deposit and others, he vanished into the thin air. He only resurfaced with a Tenancy Agreement seven months into his rent for him to sign quickly. He requested to retain same for a few days to enable him get a lawyer’s impute. Kind enough, the landlord obliged and he kept the Agreement and the landlord left, promising to return for it three days latter. The next day, he took it to a friend whose elder brother is a practicing lawyer in Portharcourt. He requested of his friend to link him up with his brother so that he could help peruse the document before he would append his signature. His friend told him that was going to be a monumental waste of resources as the fee to be paid to a lawyer for such service could be kept to make part of another year’s rent since the current rent had gone beyond half way. He took his friend’s advice and went home. Two days latter, the landlord returned to pick the signed Agreement. On sighting his landlord, he quickly appended his signature on the provided position and handed it over to the land lord. The landlord went away with it and did not show up again. Before the landlord hurried away with the signed Agreement, the young man asked about the position of the Bore Hole he promised to sink, he said the landlord turned back; looked at him scornfully and advised him to find out from neighbors around how much it takes to sink a bore whole in that vicinity. He did, and got back to the landlord on phone with the feedback he got. The landlord asked him if he knew how many years of his rent it would take to sink that bore hole. The young man quietly dropped the line and started to buy water from water vendors.

By the tenth month of his tenancy, the landlord sent him two letters; one is an increment of the rent by 100 percent and the second a Quit Notice in the even he choose not to abide by the increment. He hurriedly too the two letters to his friend who advised him three months earlier to avoid spending on a lawyer to vet his Tenancy Agreement. At this point, they pulled a call across to the friend’s lawyer brother. The lawyer requested to see the letter the next day along with any other document that relates to the Rent Transaction. The next day, he went with the letters as well as the Agreement. To his consternation, the Agreement actually contained a Proviso that allows the landlord to increase by as much as 100% and another provision empowers him to send the tenant packing within 7 Days from the expiring day of his rent. This is the same Agreement he was given two days grace to peruse. The lawyer advised him to go and persuade his landlord to be a bit lenient with him and reduce the rent to what he could afford despite the position of the Tenancy Agreement. The young man went to his landlord as suggested by the lawyer. The Landlord told him to go as he was going to think about it and get back to him. According to him, that was the last he heard from the landlord till his rent expired. He said three days after his rent expired, he was returning from work only to meet a Writ from the court; the landlord took him to court. He said the landlord is Praying the court to vacate him in accordance with the provision of the Agreement, award One Thousand naira daily against him, for the period the case would last, pay him the cost of litigation among other reliefs. According to him, the first lawyer he got to defend him in court collected forty thousand, went to court twice and refused to go on the next adjourned date except he got paid another forty thousand naira. All entreaties to make this lawyer change his mind failed. Another friend introduced him to another lawyer, this one told him he would only attend court twice for a fee of fifty thousand, after a lot of pleading, the counsel collected thirty thousand naira and has put up one Appearance. He has one more to go and the Magistrate has actually only called the matter twice in all of the Appearances. As far as the lawyers are concerned, they have done their bit once they arrive the court; it’s not their fault if the case is not called. Now, he is in a fix as to how to afford another lawyer when the current one is done. He now wanted me to bail him out of this debacle. The question is; who is to be blamed? Is it the landlord who is a businessman and  is plugging all loopholes to maximize his returns or the tenant who out of laxity refused to do the needful? The story of this young man is similar to millions out there. Am sure with ten thousand naira, he would have got a Counsel to peruse the same document and adequately guide him through. Now, he is battling hard to get himself out of the debacle he wantonly got himself into. A case of pennywise, pound foolish!

Sometimes, it is really not the fault of the courts, it is just that the citizenry refuse to do their own bit, we must be alive to our responsibility. The landlord is a man under law; so is the tenant. Under every tenancy law; there are responsibilities spelt out for all parties. If any party refuses to do his or is nonchalant about enforcing his, the system can not be blamed. No one is an outlaw no matter how highly placed. People should also stop running away from enforcing their Rights because they feel that is expensive to do or it could be delayed to get justice. Am sure, like Lagos State, most states of the Federation have Arbitration Centers that actually handle such matters free for individuals that can not afford legal fee, I also know Legal Aid Council has offices in most states of the Federation. Citizens should not allow their Rights to be trampled upon helplessly. There is always a way out if only we can take that first bold step. We must be vigilant over Rights. It pays to so do.

Akhigbe Dominic