Should A Landlord Cut-off Tenant From Water/Electricity Supply For Failure To Pay Rent/Pack Out? Daily Law Tips (Tip 612) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)
Tenancy (Landlords and Tenancy matters) are regulated by laws made by state governments in each state through the state legislators and in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (FCT) by the National Assembly (since Abuja has no state legislators). So, going by the various laws governing tenancy matters in Nigeria, the laws create minimum standards for the relationships between landlords and tenants. The laws supersede the oral and written agreements of landlords and tenants over issues of tenancy unless where the laws expressly allow landlords and tenants to decide and prevail.
In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is a federal law operational only in the FCT governing tenancy matters. The said federal law is the “Recovery of Premises Act” and came into operation since 1st June 1945. You will rarely find a copy of it online, so we have provided free online copy on our website www.LearnNigerianLaws.com in order to increase access to justice. Generally, by law, where there is any dispute between persons, they are to seek justice in courts or through alternative dispute resolution options. None is allowed to take laws into his hands, use force and result to self-help. Where a landlord wishes to recover his property from his tenant or his former tenant, the landlord MUST go to court.
That a tenant is owing any rent or fee, or has refused to pack out and is arrogant is irrelevant. There is no debt, no matter how much and for how long or even the arrogance of the tenant that will warrant and justify the cutting-off/disconnection of a tenant from any public utility. There is no debt, fee or payment that is special and that can justify such illegality including unpaid rent, balance of rent, surcharges, overstay fee (mesne profit), caution fee, advertisement levy, association fee, estate fee, development levy, sanitation levy, electricity bill, water bill, security fee, monthly/yearly dues, infrastructure fee, service charge or any money, fee or item. Let me also add, that the wicked practise of removing roof of a tenant or blocking the sewage outlet of a tenant is illegal and unlawful.
Electricity and water supplies are public utilities and only approved government staff or staff of companies in-charge of such utilities, that are empowered to connect or disconnect customers inline with regulations for connection and disconnection. It is unlawful for landlords or their agents to disconnect tenants or to connive with government staff or companies in-charge of such public utilities to disconnect tenants. Any illegal disconnection or attempt to disconnect a customer because his is owing rent or any fee (unrelated to water or electricity charges) is illegal and unlawful. It does not matter if it was done by a utility company, landlord or his agents.
Note that, across all parts of Nigeria, illegal disconnection, tampering, meddling and inference with electricity meter, fittings or appliances for generating, transmitting, distributing, supplying, calculating, converting or selling electricity is an offence punishable with maximum of 21 years imprisonment. Aside this criminal wing of the action, it is unlawful and illegal for any electricity Distribution Company (DisCo) to wrongfully disconnect any customer in any part of Nigeria. Where a DisCo is found guilty of wrongful disconnection, there are penalties to be paid by the DIsCo to the affected customer. The Penalties are;
1. For Residential customer, DisCo must pay N1000.00 for each day
2. For a Commercial customer, DisCo must pay N1,500 for each day.
3. For an Industrial customer or Special customer, DisCo must pay N2,000 for each day. Special customers include hospitals, clinics and military installation but does not include military barracks.
I am not unaware of situations where electricity and or water supplies are not publicly provided, rather they are provided by private persons or groups of persons for themselves, estate and premises. In such circumstances, it is expected there will be separate agreements for such utilities stating clear conditions for connection and disconnection. However, where agreements for such utilities are contained in tenancy agreements of tenants or where there are no written agreements, parties are advised to avoid disconnection unless there is a court order. No one is permitted to alter, modify, tamper, cease or seize the property or access to the property of another person except with a valid court order obtained from a court of competent jurisdiction.
There are several lawful means of recovering debt and property from a tenant. Avoid breaching or attempting to breach the rights of a tenant by trying to use force, self-help or any illegal means. Avoid incurring law suits running into millions of Naira and way higher than the rent/debt sought to be recovered. Please, don’t get mad but get a lawyer.
1. Sections 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 19 and 20 of the Recovery of Premises Act 1945, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (ABUJA) and other similar tenancy laws across the states in Nigeria.
2. Sections 1(10), 1(19) and 5 of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, 1983.
3. Regulations 11, 13 and 14 of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission’s Connection and Disconnection Procedures for Electricity Services, 2007.
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