Just as the human
fingers vary, so do human status, situations and endeavours vary. At different
times, locations and situations in life you are either a tenant or a landlord
or even both. You may be the owner of your residence while you are a tenant in your
office complex. They can never be a tenant without a landlord. For more on
landlords rights and duties, read my article; 
RIGHTS OF A LANDLORD. Due to the African undue attachment
to land and landed property so much attention and superiority is added to the
status of “Landlordship”. This makes up for the ill treatment the so called
landlords do met out to their often poor tenants. 

The Nigerian law is all
encompassing and people-welfare oriented. The law went on to provide an
avalanche of rights, duties and privileges for tenants.  Am set to outline
and dwell in the details on the rights, duties, privileges, powers and remedies
open to tenants in Nigeria, as a whole.

A tenant is declared a
lesser human being against the wishes of the constitution as many times as
his/her rights are trampled on. The law will always lean in favour of a tenant
and to safeguard him properly while he strives to acquire his own premises.
Here are some of the rights open to tenants in Nigeria, today;

Agreements generally can
be oral or written. In this century, oral agreements seem awkward especially
when it is executory (yet to be executed) and involves huge considerations from
the parties to it. It is advised that agreements are written, on that note a
Latin maxim says that “Quo scripti scripti”, what is written is written and
another adds that, “quo scripti mante”; what is written remains. For the
avoidance of doubt, ambiguity and misunderstanding of the intentions of the
parties (landlord and tenant) at the time of their agreement, our courts
encourage tenancy agreements to be in writing. This will aid both parties to
outline their terms and conditions expressly. The law makes the writing of
tenancy agreements mandatory for tenancies above three (3) years while tenancy
below three can be orally or written. Generally to be on the safe side parties
are advised to put their agreements in writing even if it is for a week

Tenancy agreements are to
contain in details the names of a landlord and his tenant; as parties to the
tenancy agreement. The land or house to be rented out ought to be described in
details; showing its location and basic features. The duration of the tenancy,
the rent payable and the date at which such rent would become payable should be
stated. The modalities for reviewing rent price (increment in price) should be
included. Above all, the duration for any “Notice to Quit” to be served on the
tenant should not be left out. Other terms, conditions, and covenants that can
be added are; who makes repairs on the house, how and who pays for accruing
bills and expenses (water, electricity and sanitation bills). In making the
tenancy agreement between the landlord and the prospective tenant both parties
are to execute the agreement by signing and dating it before their respective
witnesses (at least one witness for each party). Post office stamp should be affixed
to the agreement to enrich its probative value (make it recognised in law and
acceptable in court as an evidence).  

In reaching a tenancy
agreement a tenant ought to 
be as wise as a serpent since he will extend or
shorten his freedom by the contents of the agreement. Nigerian landlords are
too busy to enter into contracts with all their prospective tenants and equally
too stingy to seek for the services of lawyers. Consequently, most landlords
duplicate a single tenancy agreement and use same for all their tenancy
agreements irrespective of their varying conditions and terms; thereby leaving
some intentions unexpressed. Prospective Tenants like “money borrowers”, are
always desperate to obtain tenancy/accommodation irrespective of any draconic
conditions attached to such. Many tenants even move into property and live for
years before remembering to seek for a written agreement. A tenancy agreement
couched by a lawyer for a landlord might often be confusing and a bit
unfavourable to a prospective tenant. It might take a lawyer to peruse such and
properly advise a prospective tenant on terms and covenants to add or remove
from such tenancy agreement.

Prospective tenants are
advised to seek the services of their solicitors before signing or agreeing to
any unclear terms of any tenancy agreement. Never go into any tenancy agreement
orally; even if it is for the least of property or for the shortest of terms.
Let the friendliness and joy of today not becloud your sense of reasoning else
tomorrow may be sour. 

 Payment of rent is a
vital part of tenancy albeit not proof of existence of a tenancy. It is often
one of the covenants of a tenancy agreement. Payment of rent can help a court
in calculating the duration for a valid Notice to Quit, where there is no
agreement. Prove of payment (receipt) is needed in the calculation of a mesne
profit (rent incurred by a tenant after the expiration of a valid “Notice to
Quit” served on him) and even arrears of rent (rent incurred by a tenant while
in a valid tenancy with his landlord). It can equally clear off any allegation
of contravention of a valid rent clause (timely payment of rent). Hence, a
tenant is entitled to the receipts of payment of his rent; for it is a proof of
payment therein.

The receipt of payment is
an acknowledgement from a landlord (or his agent) that he has received rent
from a tenant. It must contain the name of the landlord and the tenant, the
amount paid and the date of such payment. The property for which such payment
is made, the duration that such payment will cover and the signature of the
receiver must also be on the receipt.

It is an actionable
offence to refuse to issue a receipt for rent paid and received. It is your
right as a tenant to be issued a receipt upon payment of rent. Where the
payment is only a part of the whole, it should also be receipted and same
stated. Remember a written agreement endorsed by the landlord before a witness
that he has received a rent from his tenant will suffice. No matter how
familiar, friendly, corporative and caring your landlord is, please always
demand for receipts of your paid rents to safeguard your tomorrow.

 A tenant pays his
rent to his landlord for the landlord to grant him a peaceful and serene
enjoyment of the landlord’s property within an agreed period to the exclusion
of all other persons; the landlord inclusive. No tenant pays to be offered an
uninhabitable apartment, dilapidated property, unsecured environment or a
contentious accommodation. Once payment is made and tenancy commence the tenant
has both legal and equitable rights over the said property. Hence the tenant
holds and occupies the property to the exclusion of all other persons and even
against the landlord since he holds a better and higher title than the

Consequently, a tenant has
an absolute right over his paid flat, room, apartment or building. He
determines entrance, usage, safety and can even sue for trespass against any
trespasser; strangers, landlord and his agents. The landlord can supervise and
maintain the property generally, but with the knowledge of the tenant and
within reasonable hours of the day. Once a landlord rents out his property he
has also rented out his supreme powers over the property although he still has
reversionary interest (right to take back property at the expiration of
tenancy). So why should a tenant upon his rent worship and tremble before his
landlord like a semi-god? Why should a tenant tolerate a landlord who breaks
and enters without into the tenant’s premises without consent?  Why should
a tenant be enslaved and turned into a sanitary attendant by his landlord whom
he pays rent as at when due? The above happen when and where the tenant is ignorant
of his rights as a tenant! Let such a man/woman consult a lawyer and report
cases of criminal trespass to the nearest police station.

 Generally, going by
the dictates of our law no landlord can evict his tenant whether he is in debt
or not by throwing him out of his premises.  The legislatures in
consideration of our conservative Land Use Act have enacted series of
tenants-friendly Acts and laws.  A tenant cannot be thrown out of his
apartment unless there is a strict compliance by his landlord with of relevant
Recovery of Premises Law.

Recovery of Premises Law
provides that a valid “Notice to Quit” (Quit Notice) of a landlord’s intention
to terminate/quit the tenancy of the tenant must be written and served on the
tenant. The law went on to provide durations for “Notice to Quit” for varying
tenancies. It provides that a one (1) year or above tenancy will require at
least a six (6) months notice.  Monthly tenancy requires one (1) month
notice while a weekly notice requires one (1) week notice. Note that by tenancy
agreements the landlord and tenant can agree on a different duration for Notice
to Quit. By the agreement of both parties a yearly tenancy for which the law
provides a six (6) months “Notice to Quit” can be reduced to a week or a month
notice. Some tenants can even sign to a tenancy to be evicted without a “Notice
to Quit”. The law honours and respects the agreements of parties and will
implement it to the last of letters.

A diligent tenant before
agreeing and signing to a tenancy agreement should carefully read and
understand in details the provisions of his agreement documents. Better still,
the service of a lawyer can be sought to help in perusing and interpreting the
contents of the agreement. Remember the law does not and will not care to know
that a tenant did not understand or never knew the law before signing his
agreement; “ignorantio legis non excuse” (ignorance of the law is no excuse).
When a tenant signs a lawful agreement that limit his rights he will be bound
by such same agreement; “violentia non fit injuria”. And such party cannot be
allowed to plead that he never signed such agreement (non est factum).

Please, do note that when
a tenant owes his landlord for (3) three consecutive months, the landlord can
dispense with the issuance of a “Notice to Quit” on such tenant. Where tenancy
has expired by time and there is no new and subsisting tenancy, the landlord
can also recover his property without issuing a “Notice to Quit”, although he
is expected to adhere to other conditions.

A valid “Notice to Quit”
must contain the name of the landlord, the name of the tenant, the address of
the property occupied by the tenant, date the notice will commence and date it
will end. It must not end when a tenancy is still running and valid. Such
notice must be calculated in a way that it ends on the eve of the anniversary
of a subsisting tenancy, for yearly tenancies. Where it is a monthly tenancy it
must expire on day of the anniversary of a subsisting tenancy.  A “Notice
to Quit” that those not contain all the above necessary information, can be
vitiated by a court of competent jurisdiction. A tenant who is not clear on the
contents of any Notice served him should see his/her lawyer.

 “Seven (7) days
Notice of Owner’s Intention to Recover Premises” is a notice from a landlord’s
lawyer notifying a tenant upon whom a “notice to quit” had been served and same
had expired; that the lawyer will after seven (7) days from the date of the
service of the Notice proceed to court to recover the over- held premises on
behalf of the landlord.

In the light of the Law’s
determination to protect the often humiliated tenants in Nigeria, it went on to
provide that aside the service of a valid “Notice to Quit” on the tenant, the
landlord must go on to serve a “(7) Seven days Notice of Owners Intention to
Recover Premises”. The law would not encourage a scene where surprises are
sprang upon tenants; hence a tenant must at all times be accorded adequate time
to quit possession.

A “(7) Seven days Notice
of Owner’s Intention to Recover Premises” can only be served on a tenant after the
expiration of a valid “Notice to Quit”. Where a seven (7) Days Notice is served
before a “Notice to Quit” or during the life span of a “Notice to Quit”, such
is invalid and goes to no issue. A seven (7) days notice is to be calculated
from the day after the service of the notice on the tenant and not from the day
of service. If the notice is short or less by just a day it is a good ground
for the court to reject the legality of such. Let no one threaten you by
serving a defective Notice on you or a court order that you should vacate
premises without all the above statutory notices. Just speak to you lawyer

 A tenant after the
expiration of a valid “Notice to Quit” on him and he still maintains possession
without the revocation of such notice or paying of rent, he is said to be
holding such against the rights of the landlord. Even at this stage the laws
will still frown at a landlord who goes on to throw out his tenant without
proceeding to court for such an order. The law still allows such a tenant to
maintain possession although no longer as a tenant of the landlord rather as a
tenant of the law (statutory tenant). As a statutory tenant he is not mandated
to pay rent to his landlord although a court can order him to pay up all rent
(mesne) he accumulated within such period after determination of a suit on

 The 1999 Constitution
of the federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2011) in its fullness and
supremacy has provided all persons in Nigeria with some inalienable Fundamental
Human Rights of which one of them is a Right to Fair Hearing. No person
(tenant) can be tried in a competent court without his/her own part of the
matter being heard before judgement is passed. So no tenant can be evicted by
court without hearing from the tenant. Some landlords in their wickedness and
criminality do procure strangers to pose as sued tenant to deceive the court
and procure judgement. If a tenant suspects that his landlord has gone to
deceive the court; let him immediately seek the services of a lawyer.

A tenant has the right to
sue a landlord who pays deaf ears to the provisions of the law and goes on to
throw out him out. The above detailed procedures are not mere academic
literature rather valid and subsisting procedure for the eviction of tenants in
any part of Nigeria. Once a tenant is in occupation of premises then he has all
rights over the premises and the law will not allow his landlord to trespass
against such.

The court will not
hesitate to slam the hammer on a landlord that throws the laws to the winds.
Let a tenant seek remedy in court by consulting a lawyer. He should equally
complain to the Nigerian Police of such trespass, to investigate such and
prosecute the landlord for criminal trespass. All persons are equal before the
law and a landlord is not in any degree a master or lord unto his tenant; not a
“tenant-lord”. For more on rights and duties of a landlord, click on “RIGHTS OF A LANDLORD”. 
Thank you. 

Onyekachi Umah, Esq. ACIArb(Uk)

Ed’s Note – This article
was originally published here