LANDLORD AND TENANT CONFLICTS ON THE RISE
LANDLORD AND TENANT CONFLICTS ON THE RISE
By Victor Osakwe
56 years after flag independence, Nigeria’s housing crisis remains unresolved. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at an estimated 24.4 million homeless people, Nigeria contributes a lot to the global homelessness figure. Mind you, not all of these cases of homelessness are due to insurgency. Capitalism has done far more to render many homeless.
In Lagos, thousands still sleep under bridges, inside shops, motor parks, parked buses and open spaces. Some of these are victims of the state government demolitions of so-called “illegal” settlements in Ijora Badia, Makoko and other poor areas of Lagos. For those lucky to have a home, they will have to contend with Shylock landlords almost all their lives just so that a roof stays over their heads. Recently, there has been an increase in the conflicts between landlords and tenants all over the country. The number of casualties from these conflicts is also on the rise.
WHAT IS THE ROOT CAUSE OF THESE CONFLICTS?
Firstly, if landlords were to be asked what is their grouse over their tenants that will lead to such conflicts as we are experiencing every day, they will say that such tenant has refused to pay his or her rent. Default in rent payment could be as a result of many reasons like for instance sudden job loss, inability of the salary earners to pay his/her rent as a result of increased responsibility such as hospital bills, etc. which is an emergency that has to be taken care of first before anything else.
On the other hand, many landlords often increase the rent to their property arbitrarily without considering the ability of their tenants to pay or how it will affect the tenants’ living standards. Some landlords demand rent of six months in advance whenever they are in need of money in order to solve their personal problems. This is capable of putting their tenants into debt because the tenant is forced to borrow money to pay this rent in advance.
Another complaint of tenants is the reluctance and sometimes plain refusal of their landlords to repair the property. Landlords do not like repairing their properties which they collect rent for, even though damages to these properties may not be the fault of the tenants. Tenants often question why a landlord will collect rents for his/her property and will fail to put the property in order when the need arises because he/she will not want to use the rent to keep the property in order. Tenants complain of threats from landlords to pack out of their property if they cannot repair the property themselves. So tenants are saddled with paying their rent and repairing damaged properties even if it is not their fault. In many cases, landlords have been known to actually carry out these threats thereby leaving the tenants homeless.
THE PROPERTY LAW IN NIGERIA
The property law in Nigeria has always been in favour of the property owners. Even if property owners are at fault, they have always been favoured to carry out their will with every means within their ability. As a capitalist country, the state and law has always been in favour of the landlords rather than tenants who form a majority. This is not only as a result of the need to comply with the capitalist ruling class ideology but also as a result of pressure from the capitalist themselves on their parties.
The Lagos State Tenancy Law of 2011 which in theory tries to protect the interest of the tenants has not made any impact in the situation at all. Like other laws in Nigeria, landlords are freely violating this law without any consequence. While the law clearly prohibits landlords from charging more than a year rent in a yearly tenancy, experience on the ground shows otherwise. Also landlords continue to put the cost of solicitors and agents on tenants in violation of section 11 of this law. Similarly, there are many cases where tenants have been evicted, with the assistance of the police or thugs, in complete violation of the notice period provided in the law. In a capitalist country where the judicial process is cumbersome and expensive, poor people are already automatically rendered incapable of enforcing their rights even when the law exists.
Despite the many years of economic boom occasioned by the price of oil selling at up to $120 per barrel, none of the ruling parties made attempt to solve the housing crisis bedeviling the country. In Lagos State where the APC held sway, houses were built for the rich. Every day we read and watch the building of new housing estates but with high rents which are not affordable by the working class and the ordinary people thereby leaving many homeless and working people suffering under selfish landlords with no solution in sight. This is as a result of the character of the ruling parties in power – they are capitalist parties bankrolled by moneybags. They are not and can never be interested in building houses for the masses.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION TO THIS PROBLEM?
Building houses for the masses has become a necessity but the various governing parties are only there to implement capitalist laws since they are part of the landlords. They will prefer applying excruciating pain on the working masses and the poor to pay their rent.
There can be no effective individual solutions to this tenant versus landlord conflicts. Only mass struggle can begin to challenge the excesses of landlords and enforce tenants’ rights. In essence, tenants, communities and trade unions need to begin to build a movement to fight for the rights of tenants, oppose wrongful evictions whether by landlords or the state and demand decent and affordable housing for all. To succeed, this kind of movement must equally fight for an end to capitalism and for a democratic socialist society that sees decent shelter for all as an inalienable human right. This is the reason why the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) is seeking registration from INEC in order to give Nigerians an alternative to these capitalist parties.
A rejection of the ruling parties (PDP, APC, APGA, etc.) is a necessity at the polls. The mantra that the private sector can resolve the housing scarcity and that government has no business building houses for the masses is a lie that is meant to give excuses for the government to remove itself from providing houses for the masses that are in need of it. A public mass housing scheme is possible where government would invest public money to build decent and affordable homes for all. But this is impossible or difficult to achieve under a capitalist system racked by economic crisis and saddled with corrupt politicians. But with public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under public democratic control and management, it can be possible to mobilize society’s resources under a socialist economic plan to ensure that no one is homeless.