The Gap

Rent control minus ‘rent police’ and ‘rent court’ equal cross-current

The Lagos state government should be tackling its housing deficit, which stood at 3.2m as of January 2022, instead of dabbling into a factor of production…
Rent control minus ‘rent police’ and ‘rent court’ equal cross-current /Skabash

Rent control is an arrangement under which a government agency prescribes the maximum rent landlords may charge for accommodation. While this regulation can benefit existing tenants if accompanied by new judicial and policy measures, a fallout could create chaos and conflict in communities.

Tenants are always on the lookout for pleasant apartments in different parts of the country, particularly Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt, Rivers State, because of the level of developments in these states. However, in any market where demand outweighs supply, buyers (in this case, tenants) are always at the shorter end of the stick.

This is the basis of the housing crisis across the country, particularly in big cities. It becomes more daunting considering the preferences of landlords for upfront payments because they reckon it reduces the chances of tenants defaulting.

In most parts of the country, especially in the south, it is common practice for a landlord to involve the police over disagreements with tenants. That is usually a last resort after intimidation fails, including locking the tenant out, seizing his property, removing the doors or windows or roof of the premises, and interfering with the use of facilities in the compound. The tenants are not saints, either. Some tenants, particularly those who have connections with security agencies, use the police and army to scare and intimidate their landlords.

But this system is about to change if we take the government seriously.

Lawmakers are debating a law to make yearly upfront rents illegal in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, while the Lagos State Government is opting for a voluntary scheme to address the issue.

The Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration is hoping that by acting as a guarantor in a new payment system, landlords will be encouraged to switch to accept monthly rents. According to the governor, this scheme is “designed to make people pay their rents according to their monthly earnings”.

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What is the scheme about? 

The government intervened in the housing deficit in Lagos by launching what is known as Lagos Monthly Rent Policy and setting aside N5billion to kickstart the scheme. According to the government, the money will be deposited into designated accounts of the participating banks for remittance as loans to qualified applicants.

There are five components in the scheme: the tenant, the landlord, insurance, financier (bank), and the legal part. The role of the state government is to midwife the policy and make it seamless and accessible to citizens.

Details are still sketchy, but I speculate a tenant must be pre-qualified to join the scheme. I think this means that he or she must be deemed to have difficulty in putting huge funds together to rent an apartment. The next step should be that the person is linked to the financier. The financier is expected to double-check the pre-qualification and, if satisfied, get to know who the landlord is.

I believe the scheme will then pay that yearly rent to the landlord through the tenant as a loan. The tenant will pay that rent, which you can call a loan, on a monthly basis after qualification. This is an assumption, too.

According to the government, though, the first set of beneficiaries will be drawn from the formal sector while the second set will be from the informal sector.

Rent control minus ‘rent police’ and ‘rent court’ equal cross-current/Skabash

“We all know that whatever happens in Lagos State affects the rest of the nation. We are therefore laying the block of first-class real estate in Nigeria with international best practices, strong regulatory enforcement, and vibrant consumer sector to ensure win-win for everyone,” the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo, said.

My worries go to existing tenants who can only join the scheme later with no defined period stated by the government. Another concern is for people living in houses where the landlords plan to increase the rent but could meet stiff opposition from the government. So, for these sets of people, the government will have to do more. Rent police and rent court have a role to play.

Rent police 

Policing here does not mean prevention and detection of crime. Policing here means security of tenure because the legislation between a landlord and a tenant is civil, not criminal. The police are not expected to get involved in any property dispute unless a crime has occurred.

But the most obvious and usual measure is to accompany the rent ceiling or monthly rent policy with the security of tenure – the tenant’s right to remain in controlled dwellings for as long as the rent control remains in force and he pays the ceiling or monthly rent.

If the purpose of rent control is only the protection of existing tenants, then the security of tenure, accompanied by effective prevention of harassment, will protect them at the expense of their landlords.

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Rent court 

What will the government do if a landlord says he cannot afford to maintain monthly rent-controlled properties? The answer is that landlords certainly have no incentive to maintain the quality of the property at a level above that which the tenant is just willing to pay the monthly rent.

Indeed, the landlord may find it profitable to allow the property to deteriorate so far the tenant quits voluntarily, leaving the landlord free to sell the property or renovate it unless the landlord can be legally prevented from allowing that deterioration. That is just one aspect of how a landlord can frustrate the efforts of the government as regards this policy.

So, does the Lagos State Government have a structure in place to accommodate the mirage of cases that are expected to flood the courts based on monthly rent collections?

Are there rent tribunals that would be set up to quickly deal with defaulters that would emerge within a month or two of implementing this new scheme? Are magistrate’s courts and their officials ready to deal with the expected surge in cases?

The legal arm is among the five components of the scheme, but for this monthly rent policy to work smoothly, it must be revisited by the Lagos state legislature, which is already saddled with a lot of responsibilities in making Lagos remain the centre of excellence.


I submit that the Lagos State Government has no business regulating rents. Setting up special courts for prompt dispute resolution and policing for enforcement could help improve the tension between landlords and tenants, but it could amount to a sheer waste of resources.

The government can embark on market intervention through the construction of affordable houses across the 20 local government areas and the 37 local council development areas. Doing this will make the forces of demand and supply truly market-driven.

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