You cannot forcefully eject a tenant without severe repercussions regardless of how difficult the tenant might be. You must respect tenant rights. The legally correct thing to do when you want a tenant to vacate a property is to issue a quit notice. In this piece, we will guide you through the process of ejecting a tenant in Nigeria. Let us begin by establishing what a quit notice is.
When you decide to rent a property or sign a tenancy agreement. You would think that the only time you can leave the property is at the end of the term that you have signed for. However, tenants should know that there are certain things that could arise and give your landlord the option to be able to end your tenancy.
The law leaves room for the tenancy agreement to be either written or oral but the history of the Nigerian real estate space favors written tenancy agreement. Most tenant and landlords like you prefer having the agreement in black and white as it is believed that this puts them on the safe side. You do not want to find yourself dealing with a tenant who suddenly lays claim to paying rent covering 2 years whereas he/she actually paid for a one-year tenancy.
There are a number of reasons which a landlord may use to end the tenancy, and in fact most of these reasons would be covered in a tenancy agreement (in the case of a written tenancy), However, irrespective of whether or not a tenancy agreement exists, there are certain activities which if they occur, could give your landlord the right to end the tenancy agreement. We will discuss 4 of the important ones you need to know:
- Failure to pay rent– This goes without saying; you need to pay your rent! One of the key elements of a tenancy is the fact that you pay a certain amount monthly/quarterly/annually, and for that you are allowed to live on the landlord’s premises…failure to pay rent as at when due can give rise to an action for recovery of premises by the landlord.
- Violation of critical terms in the tenancy agreement-Most tenancies are written, and the terms of the agreements stipulate the rights, duties and liabilities of both parties. If the tenant breaches one of the ‘substantial’ clauses, for instance if there is a clause that prevents subletting of the apartment and you do so…the landlord could have a case to prematurely end your tenancy.
- Illegal activities– The tenancy should under normal circumstances have a clause preventing illegal activities on the premises, however irrespective of the existence of this clause, it is implied, and therefore if the tenant for some reason conducts illegal activities from the property, the landlord is entitled to commence action to recover the premises.
- Break clauses-A well-drafted tenancy agreements should have this. A break clause is simply a clause in an agreement, which gives a time when one (or both) parties can decide to prematurely end the tenancy.
As mentioned above, there are a number of circumstances under which a tenancy agreement may be ended, however the above just covers a few important instances which you should be aware of.
As a tenant, you are entitled to request from your landlord that you have a written tenancy agreement. A tenancy agreement is an important document because it basically outlines the terms of your tenancy in the property, in fact one could argue that this is the most important right of every tenant. Landlords can refuse to issue a tenancy agreement, but if your landlord does not give you one, then you should be very wary. In tenancy agreements of over 3 years, it is mandatory that the agreement be in writing.
Unfortunately, even when the landlord issues a tenancy agreement, most tenants just sign the documents without reviewing it properly. Ideally this agreement should be reviewed by a legal expert.
METHODS/STEPS TO EVICTION
- Apply to the court for an order for possession of the property if the tenant owes rent.
Determine whether the tenant is in arrears. If then, under the Lagos Tenancy Law 2011, under certain tenancy tenures, the landlord can apply to the court for an order for possession of the property, and can also ask the court to order the tenant to pay arrears of rent owed. All the landlord needs to do is provide proof of the arrears.
- Give a quit notice.
Especially if the tenant is not owing rent, evicting a tenant in Lagos will require a quit notice. A quit notice is the length of time notice period which a tenant must be given before the landlord can start the process to evict the tenant. If there is no mutually agreed on length of notice in such a tenant’s tenancy agreement, the Lagos State Tenancy Law notice periods below will apply.
In the absence of a written agreement stating the length of the quit notice, the following statute will apply:
Weekly tenancy – A 1-week notice
Monthly tenancy – A 1-month notice
Quarterly tenancy – A 3-month notice
Half-yearly tenancy (6 months) – A 3-month notice (applies to Lagos only)
- The next step is to serve a 7-day written notice on the tenant of the landlord’s intention to proceed to court to recover possession.
There is usually a special court form for this notice.
If point 2 and 3 above fail, the landlord can go right back to court to start a case for a recovery of his possession as seen in the first point
Hold on! As a Lagos landlord, here’s more to note:
– The Lagos Tenancy Law 2011 does not apply to residential premises provided for emergency shelter; in a care or hospice facility; in a public or private hospital or a mental health facility: and those made available in the course of providing rehabilitative or therapeutic treatment.
It also does not apply to premises in Apapa, Ikeja GRA, Ikoyi, and Victoria Island.
- It is a criminal offence for a Landlord to demolish, alter or modify a building with a view to ejecting a Tenant and without the approval of the Court.
- It is a criminal offence for a Landlord to attempt to forcibly eject or forcibly ejects a tenant.
- It is a criminal offence for a Landlord to threaten or molest a tenant by action or words, with a view to ejecting such tenant.
- It is a criminal offence for a Landlord to willfully damage any premises with a view to ejecting a Tenant.
- Any Landlord found guilty of the above points will pay a fine of at most, N250,000 or be imprisoned for a maximum of six (6) months.
Inasmuch as the law gives power to the landlord over his property and especially in the event where he/she has to eject a tenant., it is super interesting to note that this power is not uncontrolled or absolute.
In ejecting a tenant, the law expects you to still allow for the tenant’s basic right to be treated fairly and without violence.