The House Has Been Sold While You Live In It

Selling houses whether out of necessity or for profit became very common only after 1986 when the Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP) of Babangida was introduced. Before then it was not as common and so it is still just being fully integrated as a market. Therefore, the way of handling tenants living in a house whose ownership has changed from A to B is not uniform.

People who find themselves living in such houses as tenants after the sale have different experiences sometimes pleasant and at other times bitter.

The first feeling that comes across to the tenant when a property is sold is a feeling of anxiety and maybe fear mingled with some resignation about the steps the new landlord may take.
The normal exchange that should take place is that the tenants ought to be properly informed and be introduced either to the new owner or his representative – a relative, parents or agents standing proxy. There are many instances where this is not done and is usually the first wrong step at handling over.

Tenants should politely request for a proper introduction from the old landlord either by his physical presence or a properly signed letter. In fact if the landlord would not come it is not out of place to send a delegation of tenants to confirm the true position. Cleverly delay any dealings with the new party until this is done.
By the time a property is sold, the usual thing is to begin to see a lot more strangers and new faces coming around the houses. There are two reasons for this – first, from the moment a property is featured in the market, a lot of agents and people will come to view.

Unfortunately there is nothing a tenant can do about this except insist on a note or a phone call by an appropriate person so the people who come to inspect are truly identified. Secondly, after someone has successfully purchased the property, there a lot of interested person, friends and relations around the new owner who also come to view the property. Well, in all, the tenant may not be able to do much at this stage. What remains the right of every tenant however is the right to privacy of your own flat or apartment.

Ask strangers the simple question “who are you looking for?” To ensure your personal security.
The wrong thing to do as a tenant is to try and frustrate the landlord’s attempt to sell his property or like some other tenants, frustrate the bid of a particular person who wants to buy. It may turn out to be counter productive.
There was once an incident of a man who was violently chased off with the Alsatian dogs of the tenant in a bid to prevent a proper inspection.

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Somehow the tenant just was not cooperative because he had lived in the house for over fifteen years and wanted to delay the sale. Alas, the interested party ran off but ended up paying for the property. The uncooperative tenant was eventually asked to leave at the end of that year. At other attempts, some tenants lie about the state of the house to put off any interested buyer. These tactics do not really achieve anything because someone will eventually face the odds and buy and it is likely the tenant’s tricks would have been revealed by then. Such tenants bear the brunt of their action.

Protect Yourself

There are two simple protections for a tenant under the law in situations as this when a house is sold while he is in occupation. Afterall, it is the house that was sold, not the occupants!
Actually, it should normally be a pleasant, trouble free exchange but for the level of ignorance, and pride that follows many handover situations after a sale. Some people unfortunately begin to act like they now own the tenants ad well, immediately after purchasing the property. It seems peculiar to the third world really because abroad, statutory provisions are sacrosanct.

Understand that the clause for inspections by the tenancy agreement remains. Usually this clause prescribes 24 hours or 48-hour notice from the landlord to the tenant if he wants to inspect his property internally. The same agreement says the landlord gives his tenant “quiet and peaceable enjoyment” of the rented space. The thin line in-between simply means that even the tenant should be decently informed and approached if there is a need for frequent inspections and if this is not being done every tenant can politely but firmly request that this be done. One this provision is fulfilled, for instance, the landlord’s agent had earlier informed you and maybe even offered you the premises being sold as a first offer, your full reasonable cooperation is expected.

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As soon as property is sold some new owners give instant notice that tenants should move out but the position of the law is that the rights of the tenant under the old ownership remain the same as with the new ownership. In clearer words, the landlord (old or new) has to respect the fact that a tenant has paid up till the anniversary of his tenancy and you cannot break it in-between. If the new person bought the house in February and tenancy ends in September of the same year, the new person can give a notice ending September that year but it is inappropriate to say “move before the end of May” (three months notice).
A lot of property buyers wrongly mount pressure on tenants in this manner because they either want to quickly refurbish and occupy or they are in a hurry to enjoy higher rents. The tenant has a right to stay till the end of his tenancy.
In some other situations, the tenant has paid for two or three years in advance. It is a contact and the right of the tenant remains intact by law and cannot be tampered with. The new landlord ought to have found out these details before paying for the property.

What if you owed rent several months into your tenancy and are still owing when the house was sold?
This is likely to occur to tenants frequently. The truth is the tenant still has the same obligation to pay rent as under the tenancy with the old landlord.

So pay up your rent arrears quickly. Decide with both old/new landlord, preferably at handover ceremony who should take what amount. pay up to the end of the current tenancy anniversary. As with the example above, if the property was bought in February but your anniversary is September, it means your rent has been due since 1st October of the previous year up until February when the house was sold – it may indicate that the arrears will go to the old owner while the rent between February to September of that year will go to the new landlord whether or not he intends that you leave.
If however you remain in default and do not pay, the new owner has the right to prosecute and sue for rent and possession but cannot be forcefully ejected without due court process. The conditions in the preceding chapter still apply. Another possibility is that the new landlord may refuse rent payment from February to September as with our example and insist that you move out immediately. No – this is still not legally appropriate. Document your attempt to pay rent in writing and wait till end of the tenancy period.

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There is Need to Give Exceptions

It is common for a meeting to be convened and the new owner may plead for tenants to move so he can use the property for the purpose he meant it for.
Tenants cannot be unreasonable and they both should then agree number of months for the tenant to vacate the premises. Once the tenant agrees with this, his right stated above have become subject to this.
These days even some courts will persuade or order tenants to spend three to six months to look for alternative accommodation if it is becoming unduly long for a new owner to enjoy his property. In such instances where it is mutually agreed by both tenant and new landlord or by order of court and the tenant has paid beyond, it is okay to accept a refund of rent from the old or new landlord and prepare to move.

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