Home Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @abihafh
It is not very hard to imagine a situation where a landlord arrives in a compound in Ikeja, shouting and promising to remove all his tenants’ belongings in a matter of minutes if his outstanding rent is not paid. Throw in a couple of hired heavies who aren’t actually military, but wear uniforms of some dubious security organisation, welding batons like they are about to quell a riot and you realise landlords are kings in Nigeria. They dictate the rate of rooms, flats and houses; increasing the rent to suit their financial needs irrespective of the irrationality of their actions. They usually don’t have any mortgage repayments to make and having built a house in their lifetime, they make everyone who is unfortunate to rent pray and demand their own blessings in the form of bricks and mortar from the Almighty.
Estate agents aren’t much more different from their clients. The power in being able to grant a person permission to reside at a house is enough to turn some agents into deities, to be worshipped at the altar of rent. Where the actual landlord does not visit the property or lives abroad, then the agent is able to pretend that he owns the building. I’ve heard of one who actually managed to secure himself a wife far above his station by parading himself as the gentleman owner of a block of flats in a part of Lagos. The cat was let out of the bag when the owner of the property returned from America to find that one of the flats was occupied by his agent and his wife. The wife was fondly called ‘Madam Landlord’ by the people who frequented the little drinks parlour she had established in front of the building.
I didn’t think too much of letting out my friend’s house in Leeds on her behalf when she returned to Nigeria after her split with her husband. She had struggled to cope with all the financial responsibilities that fell on her when her husband decided to up and move in with a Polish girl half his age in Manchester. It explained all those times he spent away from home claiming he was at work. In actual fact, the IT contract he claimed to have in Manchester had been cancelled for over two years after the government decided that it was a waste of time and money for the NHS. But this ex-husband’s story will be told some other time in this column.
My friend filled in all the relevant papers before she returned to Nigeria and we agreed that she should let one of the reputable letting agents manage the property for her since I didn’t live in the Leeds area. We were both very happy and relieved when a tenant – a woman who claimed to be a hard working nurse – was found within the first week. She paid her rent on time every month and all seemed well, until after six months when she showered us her true colours.
First, she complained about some of the furniture. Throw them out, I suggested. My friend was quite happy for us to get rid of the furniture so it wasn’t a big deal. Then the tenant insisted that we paid for the removal men to get rid of the furniture. The agents said we had to, and so we did. Then it was the shower that needed fixing, while she could very well use the bath in the house. Shortly afterwards, she claimed the kitchen sink was leaking. It turned out that she had installed her dish-washer wrongly.
The final straw occurred when she defaulted in paying her rent for four months and then went to the council to complain that there were issues we hadn’t rectified in the building, possibly to justify not paying the rent. All the while, the estate agent was on her side, telling us that the law expected this and that and all sorts of funny business.
I started a court case to reclaim the property a couple of months ago while the tenant still lives in the house free, and I can’t evict her without a court order. I am trying very hard to protect my friend’s interests but the law isn’t helping at all.
Did I mention that this tenant is also African? Would she try this type of nonsense with her landlord if she was in her home country? If she was back home, wherever that is, wouldn’t she be in the process of sending everyone and anyone to beg the landlord not to evict her from the house while she tried to get funds to pay her rent? This tenant is also on benefits, which means she gets money from the government for her upkeep, including housing benefits for her rent. Well she isn’t paying the rent and the legal system is taking forever to evict her. The icing on the rotten cake is the fact that the tenant is also entitled to free legal representation in court, paid for by the tax payer (that includes me!) but I have to pay my own lawyers to represent me in court to get my friend’s house back from this troublesome tenant.
I know Nigerians are known for being unruly, sometimes even lawless, but on this occasion I think the Nigerian way is the right way. I don’t agree that the English legal system achieves any semblance of justice. I prefer the Nigerian process of sorting things out face-to-face: potbellied landlord to grovelling tenant. At least if a landlord allows a tenant to live in his house rent-free, he’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that the tenant and his family are eternally grateful for his act of kindness. Where the tenant is a conniving thief, as in our case, wouldn’t the interest of the landlord be better served by just throwing the tenant out and changing the front door to deny her access? Now my friend (the landlord) owes her mortgage company over five months in arrears while the tenant remains in the house, not paying any rent and enjoying everything free from the government. And the court is taking forever to sort the issue.
I hope I won’t have to show my own colours at some point. After all, I am a Nigerian woman born and bred. Let’s hope things work out soon for all our sakes.
If you are a tenant or a landlord, let’s hear your comments. Have you had a bad experience?