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Akujobi Okoro, a trader in second-hand clothing at the Oshodi area of Lagos, is still in shock. Since being served an unusual ‘portion’ by his 72-year-old landlord, he has yet to fully understand what actually hit him.
One of 12 tenants at a multi-room bungalow situated around Bolade, another part of this popular Lagos suburb, the Nnewi, Anambra State-born businessman had been living in the house for more than six years without any worries. Apart from paying his rent as at and when due, the 37-year-old man never fails to also settle other statutory bills including for cleaning of the premises, water and security of the area at night. However, in recent times, it has been a different story especially with the harsh economic situation in the country taking its toll on businesses like his. Okoro has struggled to keep up with his obligations to his landlord.
“It has been tough meeting up with payment of house rent at the end of each month as I used to do in the past because of the poor situation of business these days,” he explained, taking deep breathes at intervals to register his frustration. “Most of us in the house are also traders, so the situation also affects everyone. Our landlord has had to endure the situation and accept payment from us whenever we are able to come up with the money,” he said.
Even though not very comfortable with the situation, the retired 72-year-old owner of the house had to accept the situation, learning to cope without the monthly payments that took care of him and his family’s upkeep. But unwilling to endure the ‘inconvenience’ anymore, the old man came up with an unusual trick – a move that has continued to shock all those who fell for it.
“To get the house rent from us by all means, not minding our financial status, the landlord colluded with a son of one of his friends who is a naval officer,” Okoro cuts in. “He pretended to have sold the building to him, claiming that he was too old to remain in Lagos and that he was going back to his village in Oyo State to settle down and start a new life.
“He brought the man to us one Sunday morning to introduce him as the new owner of the building. The man later held a meeting with us alone, telling us that he intends to demolish the house and construct a bigger building on the land immediately. He, however, told us that if we were ready to pay the full rent for an entire year over the next two weeks, he would leave us to continue living in the house because he knows that renting a new accommodation may be too expensive for us at that time. The man sounded so nice and considerate, we had to quickly accept the offer and promise to get the money paid before the expiration of the time at all cost.
“I had to borrow about N100, 000 from our traders’ union at the market to be able to meet up with the payment. Many of the other tenants had to also go all out to raise the money for the rent and pay to the naval officer. It was almost three weeks after that time that we realised what had actually happened. The landlord had used trick to force us to pay rent of one year.
“Though, I am not too sad about this because at least nobody would come to ask me for rent for one year, the amount of pressure that trick piled on us almost caused something else. I have never heard of such anywhere in my life. How the old man came about this idea still surprises many of us,” Okoro said, before turning away to attend to some customers in front of his shed.
Shocking as it sounds, this 72-year-old is not the only landlord now embracing all sorts of means to either collect rent from existing tenants or lure prospective ones into occupying vacant apartments in their buildings. He is among a growing number of elderly house-owners across most parts of Lagos today, who are devising various strategies to get their entitlements from occupants of such buildings.
For example, at the Ojota, Alapere and Ikosi areas of Lagos, findings by Saturday PUNCH reveal that apart from reducing the payment period of rents by half in some cases, landlords, who once insisted on yearly payments, are in fact accepting three months’ rates these days just to get money to take care of themselves and family.
A handful of landlords, who spoke with our correspondent in these communities recently, said that the prevailing economic situation in the country had forced them into showing some understanding to their tenants.
According to them, it is better to accept the little they are offered rather than waiting for the bulk sum that may never come if they keep waiting.
“The poor state of the economy is also getting to us,” one landlord on Alhaja Amoo Street, Ojota, Biodun Odunlami, said. “Many of these tenants used to pay their annual rents at the beginning of each year but since last year, I noticed that a lot of them couldn’t meet up again. I had to hold a meeting with them around April 2016 to discuss the best way it will be convenient for all of us, and so we all agreed that it could be broken into two. They pay half by the beginning of the year while the remaining comes in by July.
“This is how we have been managing with the situation. If I refuse to make the payment easy for them, it will cost more, may be, to have them leave the house because if you consider how long the matter could take in court, then you’ll realise that the landlord will lose more. I am not ready for such.
“For me, as long as they continue to pay their rent in the most convenient way for them, I am okay. Of course the idea distorts my own plans for the year too but I just have to accept the reality because things are really tough for everyone in the country,” he added.
In Alapere, Baba Joseph, as the owner of a one-storey building is called, told Saturday PUNCH that he no longer mandates his tenants to pay a minimum of six months’ rent – three, two and even one – he accepts them all these days, he said.
According to him, being a retiree, he needed money as much as possible to take care of himself and two children still in school. Relaxing on some of his rules has helped him get his entitlements from tenants to survive on, he revealed.
“Until about mid-last year, I never used to accept house rent below 12 months from any of my tenants,” he noted. “But as soon as I noticed that it was becoming tough for many of them to keep to that arrangement, I had to bend considerably and start accepting payment from them as they are able to afford. At least, with this strategy, I have been able to take care of myself and two children still in school. As a result of this approach, many of them even pay more than I expect at times when they do have the financial capacity because they appreciate the fact that I do not bother them anymore for rent.
“I am an old man, this house is the only thing I live on, so I have to apply wisdom in getting my due from the tenants. The system has been working for me, so I don’t have any reason to complain,” he added.
Apart from preferring to deal with prospective tenants directly these days, many elderly landlords in the Ikosi area of Lagos are beginning to trim down on the total package of renting an apartment in their houses.
For instance, one house-owner on Oluyombo Street – a popular part of the community, Dare Abayomi, told our correspondent that he had slashed what he usually charged for ‘agreement and commission’ from new tenants by half.
He also prefers to give out the apartment directly rather than relying on the workings of housing agents, who according to him, most times, scare potential ‘customers’ away by the high fee they quote – often times different from the landlord’s position. All these, he said, were to make it easier for tenants, who wish to rent a vacant apartment in his house to afford the fee.
“I took the decision to cut down on the total cost of the rent package for a new tenant into my house to ensure that the place is taken quickly and I get money to maintain my family,” Abayomi said. “I noticed that most prospective tenants were discouraged by the rate of ‘agreement and commission’ fees. In fact what the housing agents give to them is different from what we tell them, so after my experience late last year, I decided at the beginning of this year to cut that down by half. Instead of N80, 000, they only have to pay N40, 000 now.
“Also, I accept one year’s rent from new tenants instead of the 18 months or two years that most of my colleagues in other parts of Lagos insist on collecting. The ultimate reason for this is for me and my family not to go hungry. There is no sense making life difficult for tenants when it is through what they pay that people like us survive on. One just has to apply sense in getting what he wants these days,” he added.
Two other landlords, who our correspondent interacted with in the community, also echoed Abayomi’s thoughts. For them, making adjustments in certain areas has been the key to them getting their dues from tenants in recent times.
Interestingly, while faking the sale of a building to force tenants to cough out rents and cutting down on previous charges to keep the cash flowing might sound a bit unusual from most Lagos landlords considering the high demand for accommodation in the city, putting up a ‘promo’ to keep and lure existing and prospective tenants might appear a little bit funny – strange, maybe. But unbelievable as it sounds, this is the situation at a section of Ketu, one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the metropolis.
Standing on several plots of land and boasting of more than 500 rooms, owner of the structure known as Agboye Estate has adopted an unusual approach to getting his due from occupants and also attracting new tenants. Following a large exodus of tenants in recent times especially since a report by Saturday PUNCH on December 13, 2014 titled: A jungle in the city: Story of a 500-room house where tenants live as prisoners, getting new occupants to fill up vacant spaces has been a bit tough for the management of the place.
The report chronicled the horrible living conditions of tenants in the highly populated building. Apart from contending with issues of hygiene and poor ventilation as a result of the crammed nature of the structures within the premises, occupants are not allowed to host any social function like naming ceremonies despite paying so much as rent. With the harsh economic climate in the country biting even harder at the moment, paying rents promptly has now become increasingly difficult for existing dwellers.
But to change the tide and get things working in his favour, landlord of the gigantic building is now offering occupants free rent of one month if they succeed in bringing in a new tenant. Notice of the offer is pasted in strategic parts of the compound and also well communicated to everyone living there. A handful of tenants confirmed the new offer by the landlord, Onamo Agboye, in different discussions with our correspondent.
“I am aware of the new offer by Agboye,” Ekene, a commercial motorcyclist living in the compound, told our correspondent during a friendly chat earlier in the week. “I have seen the notice and one of my neighbours also told me about it, very funny I must say. Even though I do not fail to pay my rent regularly, I won’t mind enjoying such free ‘meal’ at least for one month if I get somebody to bring. It is not a bad idea,” he said.
Chioma Ejike, another existing tenant, also confirmed to be aware of the offer from the landlord, revealing that many of them were working hard to partake in the ‘promo’ by convincing some of their friends in other areas to come and rent one of the vacant apartments in the ‘estate’.
“I am paying N6, 500 for the room I am staying with my sister every month, so having the grace not to do so for a particular month won’t be bad because that amount can do a lot of other things for me.
“I have spoken to some people I know, who need accommodation at the moment, only one of them has shown seriousness so far. I really hope that she comes so that I can benefit from this offer. I hear some of my neighbours discussing the development from time to time,” she said.
Confirming the ‘unusual’ offer, manager of the facility, who gave his name only as Mike, told our correspondent that it had been on since the beginning of April 2017.
He said the move was designed to make life easier for persons living in the place by the owner of the house.
The landlord, who could not be reached for comments when our correspondent sought to know what informed such unusual strategy of keeping and bringing in new tenants into the house, had in a previous encounter in 2014 said, “I am a philanthropist; I do this to help the people. If others were like me, Nigeria would become a better place.”
Shocking as some of these accounts sound, it is the sad reality in most parts of Lagos today where landlords, especially the ones who largely depend on rents to survive, are mastering the art of living peacefully with tenants by inventing ingenious tactics to get their due.
Confronted with dwindling finances and a plummeting purchasing power in the face of a hostile economy, daily survival, over recent months, has become immensely critical for many individuals and households. Apart from the other worries constantly thrown on their path, the race to meet up with house rents has proven one of the biggest challenges for dozens today. In August 2016, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics revealed that about 4.58 million Nigerians had lost their jobs since President Muhammadu Buhari came into office on May 29, 2015. The report further revealed that the number of unemployed Nigerians rose from 7.51 million in the beginning of October 2015 to 11.19 million at the end of September 2016. Troubling as it seem, analysts say the real figure could be far higher.
As a result of this development, relationships between landlords and tenants unable to meet up with payment of rents due to financial challenges, have experienced a lot of strain, with many of such cases ending in court or tribunals set up to look into matters of that nature. Even though the Federal and Lagos State governments have announced separate efforts to tackle the country’s around 17 million housing deficit, affordable accommodation is still a luxury for many citizens today.
But despite the situation, smart landlords in many parts of Lagos are beginning to find startling formulas to get what they deserve from tenants. For them, any trick that will keep the bucks rolling in, will do.