House Rent And Covid-19: Can Landlords Evict Tenants? Daily Law Tips (Tip 542) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LLM. ACIArb(UK)
Law governs all affairs of mankind at all times; in happiness and in sorrow. For obvious reasons, the world is asleep. Lockdown and “Sit-At-Home” orders are common dictions, today. However, not everyone has a home and among those that have homes, majority are not house owners, rather they are mere tenants. Some landlords get paid daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually or biannually. With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the need to stay at home (often, in rented apartments) without having incomes, wages, salaries and the much talked about relief material from government, how can rents be paid? Are landlords entitled to demand and recover rents in this time of lockdown? Are landlords free to evict or eject tenants in this period of lockdown? Can government order landlords not to demand for rent or eject tenants in this lockdown period?
No matter the content of a tenancy agreement, eviction (forceful removal of tenant) can only be ordered by court (not even by police or any law enforcement agency) and carried out by appointed court bailiff (staff). By the way, a tenancy agreement can be written or oral (word of mouth). And, tenancy relationship can exist even without a written or oral agreement.
Ordinarily, before any tenant can be evicted from any property, such tenant must have been served with statutory notices, the matter taken to court and the court must have ordered the eviction of such tenant. So, it is only when and where a landlord wins case again this tenant in a court, that the landlord can then invite court staff to evict his tenant according to the judgment of court. Irrespective of the content of a tenancy agreement (not minding what parties to a tenancy may agree), a tenant cannot waive his right to be served with NOTICE TO QUIT and then a SEVEN (7) DAYS NOTICE OF OWNERS INTENTION TO RECOVER PREMISES. It is only were a tenant is for a fixed term of one year (not annual/yearly tenant) that the landlord is permitted to issue only SEVEN (7) DAYS NOTICE OF OWNERS INTENTION TO RECOVER PREMISES before going to Court, without serving a NOTICE TO QUIT. Any landlord or agent that forcefully ejects any tenant without having a court judgement has violated the rights of his tenant and can be sued and monetary damages (millions of Naira) claimed against the landlord and his agents.
In this season of COVID-19 pandemic, courts in Nigeria are locked/shutdown indefinitely by the Chief Justice of Nigeria except for urgent and time sensitive cases (like, human rights and criminal cases). Hence, it will be practically impossible for any landlord to commence or continue any case for recovery of rent or eviction of any tenant. However, that does not and cannot empower any landlord to take laws into his hands and forcefully eject tenants. COVID-19 pandemic is obviously an unforeseen circumstance (force majeur) that can suspend, frustrate and invalidate a tenancy agreement, making it impracticable for parties to continue and honour their agreements. However, this will be among the issues to be greatly decided by courts after this pandemic. Government has powers to control the secuirty, public peace and good of Nigeria at all times. Hence, government can constitutionally make laws to prohibit/suspend and criminalize the eviction of tenants during this pandemic. Just like government has technically halted and suspended most employment agreements in Nigeria by ordering all persons in Nigeria to stay at home irrespective of their occupational responsibilities (except for essential service providers). More importantly, such powers must be exercised strictly in line with constitutional procedures that permit restriction of human rights.
The writer is not unaware of COVID-19 pandemic and governments interventions to end it. The security and welfare of the good people of Nigeria are the primary purpose of government, however government must be lawful and law abiding in achieving such purpose. It is advised that constitutional procedures and statutory processes should be engaged at all times to avoid causing more problems in attempting to solve one. We must conquer COVID-19 without violating fundamental human rights of Nigerians. Stay at Home and Stay Healthy.
1. Sections 7 and 8 of the Recovery of Premises Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (ABUJA) and other similar laws across the states of Nigeria.
2. Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Quarantine Act of 1926.
3. Sections 43, 44 and 45 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
4. Provisions of the COVID-19 Regulations 2020.
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