Rent control is a residual matter under the 1999 consti
tution. As a result, most of the states in Nigeria have their individual rent control laws. The abuse by landlords in unlawfully evicting their tenants necessitated the Rent Control And Recovery of Residential Premises law, to seek to protect all tenancies to which this law applies. It is worthy of note that the protection afforded tenancies by this law is not intended to deprive a landlord of the fruits of his/her investment in real estate. But rather the protection only requires that a tenant should only loose his tenancy after due recovery procedure and process are complied with by the landlord.
But though rent control law exists, it has largely remained a dormant most tenants are left to suffer in the hands of their landlords who in the absence of any control, exploit the situation with arbitrary increase in the monthly or annual rent on their property. Under Section 37 of the Lagos State Tenancy law 2011, a tenant can apply to court for a declaration that the increase in rent is unreasonable and the court has power to determine whether or not the same is reasonable, taking due cognizance of the rent payable in similar apartments in the locality. If the court is satisfied that the increase is unreasonable, it can change it to a specific amount. Please note that under this law, if an action is pending in court challenging the reasonability of an increase in rent, it is unlawful for the landlord to eject the tenant pending the determination of the action. But how many people will take the time to go to court and test the law? Your guess is as good as mine.
Even though this law exists, it can be likened to a theory on paper because the reality is that the law respects our freedom to enter into contract agreements and will usually not intervene in a bad bargain in favour of the landlord. Who is a landlord? In the feudal system, a lord so called, would own a land and his tenants became his vassals. The feudal lord had dominion over the land and the produce together with the vassals living on that land. The vassals were then required to swear to an oath of allegiance to the lord, as if a monarch. The landlord could eject his tenant as and whenever he wishes, he could change and alter the rent at will; and could impose any terms on the tenant.
The purpose of rent control is to ensure that a city has a certain amount of affordable housing for lower and middle class residents. Infact, the primary advantage of rent control occurs for tenants. Besides paying an affordable rent, they can predict what rent will cost in future and budget accordingly without the fear of a sudden increase that may make living in an apartment unaffordable. The rent control system creates artificial scarcity by encouraging tenants to remain in their apartment it also creates incentive for illegal rental practices such as unauthorised subleases that tenants use to make a profit by renting their apartments to new tenants for more than they already paid the landlord under rent control.
The effort of the National Assembly and State Assemblies to implement the rent control laws has faced criticisms because, the increase in Nigeria’s population in the urban areas has led to increases in the demand for affordable housing, which is far fetched. Government should intensify efforts at providing affordable accommodation. It is only though this means that government will break the monopoly of landlords. The rent control laws though good, what about the regulatory aspect of it? When the law clamps down on the landlords, what about the cement dealers, building materials merchants? The reduction of the cost of building materials will ameliorate the problems encountered by landlords, because some landlords take loans from banks. It stands to reason that the multiplier effects are always on the tenants who are the end users of the building.
I am of the opinion that the rent control is unfair to owners of rental units and indeed damaging to some of the very low income renters which it seeks to protect. My inference is drawn from section I of the Lagos State Rent Control law that first states thus; “This law shall apply to all premises within Lagos State” only to have an exemption clause of areas where the law does not affect, (1) Apapa (ii) Ikeja (iii) Ikoyi (iv) Victoria Island. What a contradiction. In other words, property rise in certain areas is encouraged. Is this not a case of discrimination ?
Ewere resides in Port Harcourt
Nkechi Bright Ewere