Searching for and renting an apartment in Nigeria is undoubtedly an arduous task. The Nigerian Public Space is awash with acerbic and nasty tales associated with renting. A lot of people have fallen and continue to fall prey to the caprices, schemes of some unscrupulous so-called "Estate Agents" and landlords hence the need to bring this to the front burner. A while ago, a family friend "lost" a substantial amount to a so-called "estate developer" that absconded with his money and that of five others.
Right now I am sharing six nuggets of information you need to know prior to or during your renting expedition.
- Please ensure you are issued a receipt when you pay for an apartment even if the apartment belongs to a family friend. Don’t leave anything to chance because people can be funny over here. The same applies when you renew your rent; ensure your payment is receipted. It follows that if your payment is not receipted, there is no prove of your payment should things metamorphose into a legal issue. Never assume because you lived there amicably the first year therefore it will continue to be like that. Many of these so-called landlords/landladies will be nice to you the first year but will like to frustrate you subsequently so they can rent the apartment/shop to a new tenant that will pay them another round of ‘agreement’, ‘commission’ ‘deposit’, ‘NEPA’ etc.
- Ensure there is good access road and probably proximity to a bus stop. There are areas you live in and you have to be changing your car tyres often, not forgetting the time you spend on traffic to and fro. Proximity to a bus stop is also important especially if you don’t drive otherwise you need to take a bike to the nearest bus stop before you then board a bus to your destination. By the time you add your rent and what you spend on ‘Okada’ (bike) to and fro your nearest bus stop, it will be substantial.
- It is highly recommended that you have a pre-paid electricity meter in your apartment. I guess this applies mainly to those living in flats etc not in a typical ‘face me, I slap you’ where occupants share a single electricity meter. A lot of houses in Nigeria lack an electricity meter so they are at the mercy of the PHCN that unilaterally estimate and allocate amounts to be paid as electricity bill. It is highly probable to see a three-storey rented apartment in Nigeria that has just a single electricity meter. Many of the landlords, especially those ones that live in the same premises with their tenants, seldom show tenants the electricity bill. They will tell you the amount to be paid each month and God bless you; you want to argue with them. Also ensure that you do not inherit outstanding enormous bills (PHCN, LAWMA, Water) etc from the previous tenants.
- Avoid very notorious and crime/crises-prone areas. Security and safety of lives and properties cannot be guaranteed anywhere in Nigeria but there are areas that have a semblance or iota of Security and Safety. Yes everybody cannot live in Lekki, VGC, and Banana Island etc. Beware of notorious hot-spots that have a history of high crime rate and are riot-prone. This hot spot issue is not just a Nigerian thing, it exists everywhere. For instance in England, Moss Side in Manchester is noted for drive-by shootings, drug dealing etc. In Lagos, Mushin is synonymous with high rates of thuggery and criminality. Apart from the inherent danger, kids risk imbibing some of the negative tendencies in their environment.
- If you are using the services of the so-called ‘Agents’, never, I repeat, never give them the total amount for rent until you satisfy yourself that the apartment is truly vacant and have not been paid for by another prospective tenant. During negotiations with the ‘Agent’, subtly suggest you will like to speak with the landlord. His countenance will tell you whether there is something fishy. It’s preferable if you can rent directly from the landlord, some of them, especially the enlightened ones will not insist you pay them ‘commission’, ‘agreement’ etc. I unwittingly invoked the wrath of a particular landlord when I suggested to him that I was not expecting to pay ‘commission’ and ‘agreement’ since I got the apartment directly from him and not through an Agent. It’s safer for you to remit the rent fee to the landlord’s bank account at least your teller serves as prove of payment.
- Tenancy agreements and Quit notice angle. I have come across a lot of them; most of them are skewed in favour of the landlord and meant to intimidate the tenant. I came across a particular tenancy agreement which reads: "…you must not come back or knock at the gate after 10pm; you must not use a gas cooker or electric cooker, ‘the tenant hereby agrees to be served a one month quit notice if the landlord wishes to take possession of the house". I also came across another tenancy agreement where the landlord said he can enter the tenant’s apartment ANYTIME he wishes to check the condition of the house. This is a bit too far. It’s trespassing. I am not a legal expert but I am pretty sure that the Tenancy act/law and the Constitution supersede all these hogwash some landlords bandy as ‘tenancy agreement’ or quit notice.