The Black’s Law Dictionary defined a landlord as the owner of an estate in land, or a rental property who has leased it to another person called the “tenant”. Also in Coker v. Adetayo (1992) 6 NWLR (PT 249)@ 613, the court defined a landlord to include a person entitled to the immediate reversion of the premises or if the property therein is held in joint tenancy or tenancy in common, any of the person entitled to the immediate reversion, and also the attorney or agent of any such landlord and any person appointed to act on behalf of the state in dealing with any land, buildings, premises or corporeal or incorporeal hereditaments vested in the state.
A tenant on the other hand is one who holds or possesses land or tenements by any kind of right or title whether in fee, for life, for years, at will or otherwise. In a strictest sense, one who holds land of another one who has temporary use and occupation of real property owned by another called the landlord, the duration and terms of his tenancy being usually fixed by an instrument called a lease or tenancy agreement.
It is important to note that the relationship between a Landlord and tenant is often governed by a Law and it is expressed in a tenancy/lease agreement which stipulates the rights and duties of both parties. The law that regulates landlord and tenant relationship in Nigeria is the tenancy laws of each state of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. That of Lagos is known as the Lagos tenancy law of 2011. These laws would be examined in our subsequent article on Tenancy Laws in Nigeria.
This article is aimed at examining the duties of the two parties in the context of a good relationship.
DUTIES OF THE LANDLORD
DUTY TO KEEP THE PREMISES IN A HABITABLE STATE
There is an implied condition of law that a landlord who undertakes to let furnished building does so in a habitable state. To this end, the landlord is expected to effect external and structural repairs where necessary. In (Smith v Marrable (1843) 152 ER 1114), a furnished building was invested with bugs, the tenant quit without notice. It was held that he was at liberty to do so and he was not liable in the landlord’s action to recover compensation for the use and occupation of the building for the period the tenant was in possession. See also S. 7 of the Lagos State Tenancy Law 2011. Furthermore a landlord is expected to provide certain basics such as water, electricity that is fundamental to a tenant’s enjoyment of an apartment. However the reverse is always the case here in Nigeria where in most cases the landlords let out a house or apartment in a deplorable state leaving the tenant to do all the repairs and in most cases the tenants are unable to get a refund from the landlord. This should not be the case.
DUTY TO ENSURE QUIET AND PEACEFUL ENJOYMENT OF DEMISED PREMISES
The landlord is obligated to ensure that the tenant have quiet enjoyment of the demised premises and the tenant is entitled to freedom from unreasonable disturbance from the landlord. In (Owen v Gadd(1956) 2 QB 99), the landlord through his contractor erected scaffolding for the purpose of carrying out repairs to part of the premises. This impeded entrance into the plaintiff shop for 11 days. His action for breach of covenant for quiet enjoyment was successful.
It is important to note that where there is a breach in the payment of rent, the landlord cannot resort to self-help such as entering into the demised premises to destroy the tenant’s properties in other to compel him to pay his rent, where he does so; the tenant is at liberty to sue for damages.
However, the landlord may enter the premises to carry out structural repairs and inspection and retains the right to enter the premises for the purpose of installing electrical appliance, electrical wiring, plumbing etc and also to comply with any legislation or the requirement of any authority.Notice must be given to the tenant and his consent obtained.
DUTY TO KEEP THE PREMISES INSURED AGAINST LOSS OR DAMAGE.
This is one of the duties of the landlord. Insurance of the demised premises is necessary and important in order to protect the reversionary interest of the landlord.Property insurance provides protection against most risks to property, such as fire, theft, and weather damages. It is important to note that the tenant is also obligated to insure the property in the joint name of the landlord and the tenant even if same is not expressly stated in the tenancy agreement.
However where the landlord takes an insurance policy, such policy does not cover the possessions of the tenant. Furthermore, where the tenant commits any act which would affect the policy taken by the landlord, the landlord is entitled to being compensated. It is important to note that the issue of insurance of premises is not taken seriously in Nigeria which is rather very unfortunate. It has been observed that 97% of the houses rented out by landlords in Nigeria are not insured.
DUTY TO PAY ALL TENEMENT RATES AND CHARGES AS STIPULATED BY LAW:
The landlord is mandated to pay rates, taxes and charges as stipulated by law. Some of these rates includes but are not limited to ground rents, land use charge etc. However, this is not the case as landlords especially those who are not living in the demised premises always leaves these rates to be paid by the tenants. In Lagos state however, it is the landlord’s duty to pay for tenement rates known as Land Use Charge.
A tenant can sue the landlord for damages if the demised premise is sealed as a result of nonpayment but very unfortunately, most tenants are ignorant of this law. Property Advisory Network have found out that it is the tenants that pay this land use charge in most cases, especially tenants living in low class areas of Lagos. We advise tenants to know that it is their rights to insist that the landlord pays this rate.
DUTY NOT TO SEIZE THE PERSONAL PROPERTY OF THE TENANT OR HINDER ACCESS TO HIS PERSONAL PROPERTY
As earlier stated, most landlords resort to self-help in other to compel a tenant who is in arrears of rent to pay his rent. Some of them even go as far as seizing the chattels and personal properties of the tenant and detains same until the arrears of rent is paid. It is however advisable for a landlord to approach the court for recovery of possession of premises.
This is because a tenant is at liberty to sue the Landlord in conversion and detinue. Conversion involves a wrongful interference in a manner inconsistent with the owner’s possessory rights while detinue involves unreasonably detaining ones property. This practice is very common among tenants who live in low profile areas of our urban cities. We in Property Advisory networks have received several reports to this effect and we are advising tenants to summon the courage to report landlords who engage in this practice to the police or magistrate court.
In a very bad example that was brought to our notice, a landlord brought in a snake to chase away a tenant who is owing him, some others bring “ juju” and use other threats . These practices are illegal and condemn-able. Tenants are advised to report these practices to the magistrate courts, report to your lawyer or contact Property Advisory Network for assistance.
DUTIES OF THE TENANT
DUTY TO PAY RENT WHEN DUE AND IN THE MANNER STATED
The first and foremost duty of the tenant is to pay rent in the time and at the manner stipulated in the agreement. Generally, the tenant is supposed to pay his rent in advance before taking possession of the premises. It is important to note that rent determines the nature and periodicity of the tenancy relationship. Where a tenancy agreement is oral or it is in writing but the document is legally defective that it is of no value in the eyes of the law, the judge, in order to arrive at the periodicity of the relationship must rely on inferences.
Usually judges try to infer the periodicity of a tenancy from the periodicity of rent: where a tenant pays rent monthly he is held to be a monthly tenant, if he pays yearly, he is said to be a yearly tenant. Furthermore if the payment of rent is reserved for a certain period, it behoves on the tenant to pay such rent timely. If however the title of the landlord is in dispute, the tenant may apply to court for him to pay the money to the court.A landlord can however apply to court for payment of arrears of rent if the tenant neglects to pay his rent.
DUTY TO KEEP THE PREMISES IN GOOD AND TENANTABLE REPAIR
The tenant is obligated at all points to keep the premises in good and substantial repair and condition. It is important to note that a repair covenant does not mean that the tenant is obligated to turn an old building to a new one. The standard of repair expected of a tenant is such repair as having regard to the age, character, and locality of the house would make it reasonably fit for the occupation of a reasonably minded tenant.
A tenant is also obligated to carry out such duties which would avoid waste. For instance , weeding the premises, cleaning the chimneys, clearing the soak away pit, and cleaning of the cobwebs too. In fact he must do the little jobs about the place which a reasonable tenant must do.(DENNING ,L.J IN WARREN V. KEEN(1954) 1 QB 15 )
It is important to state that where a tenant is displeased with the condition of the property before he moves in, he can pay in advance for repair. If however the property is in a state of disrepair and there is an agreement between the parties permitting the tenant to carry out substantial repair, the tenant may carry out such repairs and be repaid by the landlord. If however a landlord reneges on such agreement after repairs have been effected, the tenant may apply to court for Damages.
DUTY NOT TO MAKE ALTERATIONS AND ADDITION TO THE PREMISES WITHOUT THE WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE LANDLORD
The tenant is obligated not to carry out any sort of alteration and addition to the premises without the consent of the landlord. He is expected to leave the premises in the manner in which he entered. If the tenant alters the premises without the landlords consent, the landlord has the right of re-entry and the tenant shall forfeit the cost for any addition made in the premises, however the landlord must not take the laws onto his hand to re-enter by force. He must apply to the court.
DUTY NOT TO ASSIGN OR SUBLET THE PREMISES WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF THE LANDLORD
Subletting is the process of allowing someone rent all or part of a house or building belonging to another while you collect rent. To this end, sublet refers to the transfer of interest in a property to a third party while the reversionary interest is vested on the tenant. Assigning on the other hand refers to a total transfer of one’s interest to another.
Generally in most tenancy relationship, it is forbidden to sublet the premises. However, if the landlord consents to such sub lease, the sub lessee automatically becomes a tenant to the landlord. However, if the tenant sublets without the consent of the landlord, the landlord is not mandated to issue a notice to quit to such sub lessee. The sub lessee is only entitled to seven days notice of owner’s intention to apply to court to recover possession after which the landlord can institute an action in court for recovery of possession.
Buttressing this point is the case of Adeyinka v. Aiyeloja (1956) LLR 23, where the court held that a person who is unlawfully let in by the head tenant does not become a statutory tenant of the landlord hence he is not entitled to a Notice to Quit.
DUTY TO PERMIT THE LANDLORD DURING THE TENANCY AND AT ALL TIMES TO INSPECT THE PROPERTY
The tenant is also obligated to permit the landlord or his agent, privies, attorney or representatives to enter into the premise to carry out inspection of same. However, the landlord shall give reasonable notice to the tenant prior to the day of such inspection. Furthermore if in the course of inspection, the landlord or any person appointed by him notices that the demised premises needs structural repairs on the interior to be carried out by him, he is mandated to inform the tenant of such date and time he intends to effect such repairs and the tenant’s consent must not be reasonable withheld.
Both the landlord and tenant owe it a duty to each other not to engage in acts or omissions which would constitute nuisance to the landlord, tenants or co tenants. This is very important because we in PAN have seen cases where either the landlord or his family members, tenants could be very noisy, dirty, inconsiderate and engage in several acts or omission which constitute nuisance to the other parties.
It is a notorious fact that human beings are difficult to deal with and problems are bound to arise in a tenancy relation. However to ensure peaceful relationship, it is advisable for everyone to play his part and be honest in his dealings. If however, there is breach from one party, the other party can retain the services of a legal practitioner to enforce his rights or contact Property Advisory Network for advice.