Landlords are often faced with a lot of dicey situations when dealing with their tenants in Nigeria. One of such instances is where a landlord has begun the legal process of evicting a tenant but the tenant has still not moved out of the house. Knowing how the judicial process can be painfully and regrettably slow in Nigeria, most tenants stay on (or hold over) the premises even after they’ve been served the necessary papers terminating their tenancy.
A while ago, a viral tweet made the insinuation that in situations like this, the tenant who is still staying in the house is by law not required to pay any further rent. In essence, the tenant gets to stay in a free house even if he or she is not in Free Town. The tweet even mentioned that if the landlord does otherwise, tenants could feel free to arrest their landlord.
You may have seen the tweet or maybe not. If not, you can find it below –
Interesting tweet, right? But some fundamental things mentioned in it do not represent the position of the law.
So, in this piece we will clear the air on the tweet and emphasize a few things any and every landlord should know when dealing with their tenants.
Reference is made only to Nigerian Law especially the tenancy law of Lagos State and a few other states. It is necessary to mention that the Lagos State tenancy law 2011 does not apply to all parts of Lagos State. It also does not apply to all buildings or properties in Lagos State.
Due to the fragmentation in the law (as indicated above for Lagos State) as well as other technicalities in this area of the law, it is usually wise to seek legal advice for specific situations. Also, while concerted efforts have been made to provide correct legal information in this piece, please note that this piece does not replace the need for a lawyer and does not amount to legal advice.
How are Landlords to Evict Their Tenants in Nigeria?
The law currently prevents landlords from forcefully ejecting (or throwing out) their tenants. As stated in our previous article – the Law is that a landlord has the right to take back (or recover) his property from his tenant but this has to be in accordance with the tenancy agreement and the laws governing such recovery of his property.
The landlord must not take the law into his hands in an attempt to recover his property. Put differently, this means that the landlord is not allowed to forcefully enter into his property rented out to his tenants and evict (or throw) them without a court order. This includes a situation where a landlord removes the roof of a tenant’s house just so as to get the tenant to move out.
Where a landlord does this, he opens himself up to the possibility of being sued by the tenant for trespass. Also, should he assault the tenant, he could be criminally culpable or liable for the breach of the tenant’s fundamental rights. [ – Ihenacho v. Uzochukwu (1997) 2 NWLR (Pt.487) 257, Akinkugbe v. Ewulum Holdings Nigeria Ltd. & Anor (2008) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1098) 375 Eloichin (Nigeria) Ltd & Ors v. Victor Ngozi Mbadiwe (1986) LPELR-SC.54/1981]
Just for emphasis, Section 44 of the Lagos state tenancy law 2011, provides as follows;
(1) Subject to the provisions of any Law-
(a) Any person who demolishes, alters or modifies a building to which this law applies with a view to ejecting a tenant and without the approval of the Court; or
(b) any person who in respect of any premises-
(i) attempts to forcibly eject or forcibly ejects a tenant;
(ii) threatens or molests a tenant by action or words, with a view to ejecting such tenant;
(iii) willfully damages any premises,
shall be guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N250,000.00) or a maximum of six (6) months imprisonment and any other non-custodial disposition.
The gist of the section quoted above is simple – it is a crime to forcefully eject a tenant in Lagos State. Similar provisions exist in the tenancy laws of other states.
To properly evict a tenant in Nigeria, it is advisable to contact a legal practitioner for proper guidance or to preferably carry out the process for you. This is because some legal technicalities most times come to play and where one is not careful a tenant could take advantage of a landlord’s failure to properly surmount those technicalities and stay on in the property for an extended period. We will explain how this has happened in time past towards the end of this piece.
Generally speaking, a landlord should take the following steps –
- Where there is a tenancy agreement and the tenancy is still subsisting, review the agreement to know the extent of notice to quit the tenant is entitled to. Ideally, the length of the notice should be stated in the tenancy agreement.
- Where there is no tenancy agreement, the applicable law governing tenancies in the state concerned should be referred to. The tenancy law of the state concerned would usually provide for the length of notice to quit each type of tenant is entitled to.
- In some instances, the tenant is not to be served with a notice to quit, rather, he or she is to be served with another document called – a notice of owner’s intention to recover possession. This notice of owner’s intention is conventionally for a period of seven days and is used when the tenancy has expired. In some states these notices are usually filed in Court and served by the court’s bailiff.
- After the service of the relevant notices, if the tenant does not leave the property, the next step is to file a claim in the court with jurisdiction over tenancy matters in the state involved.
- The claim would be heard and decided by the court just as any other civil matter. Most times, the tenant settles the matter out of court by leaving the property and making any relevant payments. In such a situation, there is no need for the claim to proceed till judgment. Most times, this is not so and the claim would be heard in full before the court issues a warrant of possession
Depending on the applicable tenancy law and the situation in each case, it might not be necessary to chronologically follow the steps as stated above.
How Much Notice Does a Landlord Have to Give a Tenant to Move out in Nigeria?
The length of notice required to evict a tenant in Nigeria depends on two things – the tenancy law appliable in the state where the property is and the content of the tenancy agreement (where one was signed).
Let’s explain that.
The tenancy laws of many states stipulate how many months’ notice a landlord is to give his tenant before he can evict him. In many tenancy laws, the length of notice is usually stipulated as follows –
- one (1) months notice for a monthly tenant;
- six months notice for a yearly tenant
Despite the provision we’ve just stated above, we should mention that many of these tenancy laws also contain a rider. By this we mean they allow the landlord and tenant to agree to a shorter notice period in their tenancy agreement.
The effect of the above is this – while the length of notice stated in the law should ordinarily apply, the landlord and tenant can by their tenancy agreement choose the length of the notice. Where they agree to a different notice period in their tenancy agreement – it is what they’ve stated in the tenancy agreement that will apply. This is one reason why a written tenancy agreement is especially important.
Some Technicalities That Frustrate Landlords from Recovering their Properties In Nigeria
The eviction of tenants from properties in Nigeria is one area of the law that has a long history of tenants using every loophole in the law to ensure they continue staying in a property long after their rent has expired.
In one particular case, the tenant stayed in the property for about 14 years after its rent had expired. Within this period the landlord was in Court trying to get an order evicting the tenant and the case moved got all the way to the Supreme Court!
One of such technicalities used to be that where the landlord fails to serve the proper statutory notice (that is a notice to quit or notice of owner’s intention to recover possession) on the erring tenant before the matter is taken to Court, the Landlord’s case is bound to fail. This arguably used to be the position of the law until recently the Supreme Court delivered a landmark decision in the case of Pillars Nigeria Limited vs. William Kojo Desbordes & Anor (2021) LPELR-55200 (SC). Some Lawyers have praised this decision as one that has changed the compulsory requirements of giving the tenant notice.
Other Lawyers argue that the Supreme Court decision in Pillars Nigeria Limited did not alter the previous position of the law which mandatorily required that the notices must be given to the tenant or the landlord’s case will fail. A recent Court of Appeal decision even supports the argument that the Pillars Nigeria Case did not change the law in this regard.
Either side of the arguments have their merits. But for the landlord who simply wants his property back, it would be wise to act with caution in preventing this debatable legal position.
Will a Tenant pay Rent or any Other Fee after He is Given a Quit Notice?
This question is a common one. For clarity, the question is – Will a tenant still pay rent or any other fee even after his landlord has given him a quit notice?
Surprisingly, a lot of people have the wrong belief that once they receive a quit notice, it automatically means no more payment is to be made to the Landlord until they leave the rented property. Like the tweet we mentioned earlier said – “…and you will not pay rent again within that 6 month“. That is not the position of the law please.
The law in Nigeria makes provision for a tenant who continues to stay in a house after his tenancy as expired to pay for the extra period he stays which is not covered by his last rent. This is what is known in law as MESNE PROFIT. Mesne profit simply means the profit which a landlord can recover from a tenant whose tenancy has ended but who still continues to reside in the property till the date he finally leaves the property.
The simple gist we are trying to pass across here is that there are no free houses for ‘stubborn’ former tenants. A landlord can claim and recover mense profits where tenant doesn’t leave the property at the expiration of his tenancy or the notice to quit served on him.
Written By Nkobowo Frederick LLB, BL.
Nkobowo Frederick Nkobowo is an astute lawyer and alumnus of the University of Uyo. He is currently a Senior associate in Compos Mentis Legal Practitioners; one of Nigeria’s foremost indigenous law firms. As part of the Dispute Resolution Practice group of the firm, he currently specializes in Banking law, employment law as well as oil and gas litigation. He is also an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Nigerian Chapter.
In the Course of his practice, he has successfully represented corporate organizations and individual clients in handling various high net worth claims in various Courts across the nation. With a penchant for detail, he is known to sift through the mesh of facts and law to achieve justice for clients within the bounds of the law. This has led to the win of many multi-Million naira claims filed against his Clients. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
 The Law does not apply to the Apapa, Ikeja GRA, Ikoyi and Victoria Island parts of Lagos State – Section 1(3) of the Lagos State Tenancy Law 2011.
 See Section 13(5) of the Lagos State Tenancy Law
 In Lagos State – See Sections 39 and 40 of the tenancy law of lagos state
 See Section 13 (2), (3) and (5) of the Lagos State Tenancy Law
 There are peculiarities to the length of notice required as stated above, See Section 13(1) of the Lagos State Tenancy Law,
 See the cases of A.P. v Owodunmi (1991) 8 NWLR (pt 210) 391 at 416 – 417, Oketade v Adewunmi (2010) 8 NWLR (Pt 1195) 63.
 The following cases are instructive on this point – ORJI v. OBI (2020) LPELR-50796(CA), BANKOLE & ANOR V. OLADITAN (2022) LPELR-56502(CA), SULE VS NIGERIA COTTON BOARD  2 NWLR [PT5] 17
 See ADIMEGWU v. BALA & ANOR (2022) LPELR-57442(CA)
 Quit notice is the same thing as a notice to quit. Both are used interchangeably in this piece.
 Section 31 of the Lagos State Tenancy Law