I always keep an apartment in Lagos, even though I hardly spend up to one month in Lagos per year. The reason I do this is so that I have a place where I can keep my things and probably stay in when I am around. Now that I think of it, perhaps I should consider getting a storage space instead; as an incident with the landlord of the apartment I have kept for the last five years; has left me feeling rather disgusted.
Don’t get excited. I will not go into details of everything that transpired between us. The main gist is that he insisted I pay him 100% of the rent for the next year; this by the end of this month which is when the rent officially expires.
And this only upset me because he insisted on this; almost immediately after I let him know about my difficulties accessing money in my home account due to the lockdown. Actually, I had even already made an initial 35% deposit. Thereafter, I asked him to only be patient until after the lockdown to get the balance. But the man was breathing fire and brimstone.
And note, this is coming after five years of paying the full amount on time every year. If my landlord is treating me this way, despite a history of not owing and even an initial deposit; what are other people facing? How is it that some Lagos landlords are okay with some of their heartless gimmicks, honestly? How do landlords like him who create such a toxic environment for their tenants; so much that their (tenants) everyday life becomes a never-ending misery, sleep at night?
The lockdown of businesses has meant an almost overnight loss of jobs or reduced hours for many. And for those whose rents are due at the end of this month; I bet it is going to be super tough. It’s hard to pin down just how many Lagosians won’t be able to make rent on April 30th. Clearly, so many people who aren’t used to being in this situation will certainly have to navigate it; probably for the first time
Unfortunately, unlike the case in some other countries; there has been no release of government package to help residential renters in this period. Therefore, I believe the ethical thing for landlords to do at this time; is to be patient and remind themselves that we are in this all together. Everyone in the rental system – tenants, landlords and agents – are feeling the effects of the pandemic.
Yes, it isn’t just renters who are struggling, some landlords are too. Many landlords have lost their jobs; many agents are overwhelmed by trying to keep businesses afloat while quickly mediating temporary solutions. That being said, however, they need not take it out on their tenants; but rather empathize and try to help them, rather than insisting on they making full payment, or even increasing rents.
Given, there is no template for how they (Lagos landlords) might help; and no library of what other landlords in other states are doing, however, I have some ideas. First, Lagos landlords should try not only to talk directly with tenants, they should really listen, empathize.
Next, they should try to work out a payment system that will be convenient for both parties. If they, however, insist on going through their caretakers, agents, or lawyers; they should ensure the third party reflects their values as a landlord.
Moreover, they should try to offer tenants rent reductions, deferred rent or variation of lease as part of negotiations. Rent reduction implies reducing the rent for a specific timeframe; with specific details on how much the rent will be reduced by, how long it will be reduced; whether the reduction in rent is repayable, and if so, when and how the repayments should be made.
Rent deferrals implies a rent-free period where the rent is repayable after a given time. With the latter, the expectations of repayment need to be clear; as to when and how repayment is to be made, and whether any interest will be added; while variation of lease can be by way of reducing the rent and increasing the term of the lease; revising the rent and resetting it back in line with market value or reducing or waiving outgoings payable by tenant.
In other words, landlords need to share the burden of COVID-19 fairly with their tenants. They should feel fortunate to be secure enough at this time to continue offering some relief to their tenants; without requiring any themselves.
In fact, the last thing a landlord wants to do right now is find a new tenant; so they need to be more flexible to keep the tenant they already have; while remembering that tenants have rights and different jurisdictions have eviction moratoriums that expire on different days.
And please, for tenants who are worried about what will happen when you can’t make the next payment; note that the most important step is talking to your landlord. It’s important to be upfront with your landlord and get conversations in writing.
Not paying rent without talking to your landlord first means that; if you do end up going to court over an eviction, it’ll make your defense weaker.