How Tenants Can Avoid Being Thrown Out Of Their Rented Apartments

One of the most constant threats facing tenants is the possibility of being ejected from their rented apartment and thrown into the streets without a fair chance. In the face of so many issues with the landlord or his agents ranging from inability to pay rent promptly or refusal to pay an increase or even broken rules of engagement as a tenant, you may be asked to leave summarily.

For those tenants who have experienced such real threats of eviction or are in the middle of it, the feeling certainly is not good because all day long wherever you go, it remains a nagging feeling that just does not leave.
Consequently you do not feel settled. Unfortunately, despite the torture many still get thrown out dishonourably in the middle of the day and the tenant appears helpless. Are there any defenses for the tenant? If there are, how can this constant threats be handled?

Why Are You Being Harassed To Leave The Apartment?

It would usually be one or a combination of these reasons below:

A desire to increase rent from current level being paid.
Inability to continue to pay rent or you are in arrears.
Refusal to agree to rent increase.
Constant lateness in paying rent.
Bad behaviour or perceived rudeness of the tenant.
Incompatibility with landlord, other tenants or neighbours – common with tenants who are young and keep late nights, hold parties often in their flats and generally produce noise that inconveniences others.
Breeding pets and other animals.
Poor maintenance of the building or premises which is usually pointed out (rightly or wrongly) like overgrown grass, dirty walls, blackened kitchens and so on.
Landlord needs to use the house personally or wants his children coming home to use the place. This is sometimes an excuse just to get the tenant to go because of any of the above.
Agents or landlord finds the tenants difficult and uncooperative. Some tenants try to prove rights to the limit thereby wearing everybody else out.
Unauthorised alterations done to the structure like creating a new door or window or removing old fittings to put your own without the owner’s permission.
After a long tenancy. Some people have a rule that after ten or twenty years they would ask tenants just to leave. There is no offense, just leave!
The tenants is discovered to be a fraudster frequently wanted by the police or more recently EFCC!
Somebody else has just bought the house!

It is practical to identify which of the above possibilities is leading to an eviction notice and where possible quickly deal with the problems by making adjustment and correction.

How Long Were You Given?

One thing is usually common. Everybody is given some kind of notice either spoken angrily, “I give you till the end of the month!” or “Please pack out within three months from now – that is, end of August or else,” or written in a letter that purports to be a Quit Notice.
What this “Notice” does for you is alert you that you have a problem and you should act to deal with it before the set date by addressing the letter and the issues raised.
It is wrong just to ignore a notice or wish it away. It is not some people’s nature to confront issues and so by just folding the letter away and wishing that the day will just pass and nothing will happen, they do nothing else. This is wrong.

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First approach the writer of the letter or the issuer of the threat and try to resolve any outstanding issue. Make sure to have a good understanding of the problem so that if the fault is yours you can admit it and make amends.
The other possibility is this. The pronounced day arrives and the landlord observes you have not moved. Subsequently he comes up with four or five hefty men who enter your apartment and start taking out your property while you beg helplessly.
Unfortunately the landlord or his agents do not have a right to do this and should be prevented within the ambits of the law.
Most tenants indirectly encourage being thrown out because they do not display a good level of knowledge or awareness that unless there is a court order no one can enter your private home to throw out your stuff.

A Notice Has to be Given Properly Otherwise it is Not a Notice
The above verbal illustration of a notice is defective and therefore cannot stand for the purpose of asking a tenant to leave.
A proper notice must meet a statutory provision, that is the length of time the law prescribes that a notice be given.
In instances of a yearly tenant a notice must be for a minimum of six months. If the tenant pays quarterly or half yearly, a three-month notice would do but one month notice for a monthly tenant. A notice must equally end or coincide with the annual date that tenancy ends. in clear terms if your tenancy ends 31st December of every year to begin again 1st January of the next year, the notice should be arranged to terminate also by 31st of December or else it is defective.
Automatically this pre-supposes that a notice must be in writing. A verbal notice can be denied easily.

A Notice is Not Final in Itself
There is no law that permits the landlord or his agent to re-enter the property at the expiry of the period of notice. the only clause in tenancy agreements is the provision of re-entry if rent remain unpaid. So pay your rents when demanded. The landlord has to go to court after the notice expires to obtain a judgement that the tenant should leave otherwise he has no right to re-enter despite the fact that it is his house.
The fact that you are paying rent temporarily restrains him from entering your own apartment without notice or permission.
If the landlord enters your house at the end of a notice without a court order he can be sued.
There was once a situation like this and the tenant simply claimed that N500,000 was in his house at the time of forceful entry and sued the landlord for the full sum. The poor landlord had to pay a handsome amount after begging the tenant and settled out of court.

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Follow the Landlord or his Agents to Court
It is a fallacy of this modern age to say “God, don’t let me see court case”. In other words, “see no evil, hear no evil”. This is where most people lose out. The landlord will head for court after the expiration of the notice and usually the tenant does not turn up mostly because he wants to avoid confrontation. But this is the wrong stage to avoid showing up and it is not confrontation, it is called a defense. The implication is this – the owner of the property prays the court to give him an order to throw you out – evict you!
Since you did not shown up, the court sees an undefended case and has no choice but to give the order after due process.
if however you showed up, at least the court will listen to you and may favour you to stay on until you conveniently have found an alternative.
Depending on the amount of rent payable the case may be entered in any of the underlisted courts:
– High court
– Magistrate court
– Customary court
– Specialised rent courts/or tribunals.

Normally you should be served a notice that specifies which court and the date/time of hearing. Learn to respond by appearing there personally or getting a lawyer to appear on your behalf. This would prevent a rude shock or surprise that could occur if the order is given behind you and all you see is people coming for your things in the eviction process.

Manage it well – Things can go your way!
One of the things everybody must establish is fairness.
If a tenant tries to take undue advantage of the landlord, he will eventually lose out. The same way, a landlord must seek to be fair to his tenants. Once in court, a lawyer will advise the tenant on the processes of a good defense. Sometimes the processes take time and the matter may drag on for one or two years.
In the middle of all these, it may be necessary for the tenant to enter a counter suit against the landlord depending on how the matter is going but the tenant may have to be proactive. Be one step ahead of the landlord in the matter.
Eventually if there is no intervention or effort to settle out of court, the owner of the house will recover his house from the tenant by the court’s decision but the time in-between should be used well by the tenant.
These are the ways a tenant can protect himself from harsh treatment.
– Affords the tenant time to make corrections.
– The tenant can seek alternative accommodation and move out peacefully.
– If the tenant has an idea of when judgement is passed because he has been attending court he can quickly move his things to the house of friends and family to avoid being shamefully treated.

A Quit Notice Can Be Defective
As earlier mentioned, a Quit Notice has to be served on a tenant. Usually there should be proof the tenant received it. So when you receive a Quit Notice sign and date it to indicate when you received it. Most of the time there are attempts to backdate a Quit Notice which is not proper.
– A notice must give the time prescribed at law. A shorter period renders it impotent.
– A notice should be properly addressed to the tenant.
– A notice must be written by the authorised person acting as attorney to the landlord.
Note: Once a notice is defective it cannot be the basis upon which you are taken to court and has to be re-issued. in other words, a defective notice can cost the landlord one more year and work to the tenant’s advantage.

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Implications of Bursting Into Your Apartment
Above all it is common for the landlord or his agents to take the bull by the horn and re-enter his property without the court order. Since this happens frequently this section is given as a sort of first aid to help a confused tenant to take appropriate action.
Immediately call the attention of the nearest Police Station in your area to stop the intruders.
Call the attention of your lawyer immediately whose presence could instil some order and decorum.
Demand to see a copy of the court order authorising your eviction. If same cannot be produced, make it clear that you know that the eviction is illegal.
The matter of landlords and tenants is an entirely civil proceeding in court and if policemen accompany the landlord to your house to take over without an order from a court to do so, they are doing this illegally and a superior officer like the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) can call such erring officers to order.
During this aggression and invasion of your privacy you may easily be overpowered. it is not good to put up a physical show of strength. Leave them to desecrate your house if eventually the above actions did not stop them. Try to lock-up but they most likely would break the door.
– Take a record and possibly photographs of the on-goings.
– Report the situation to the police and if possible get a statement in writing from one of the party if he can be arrested.
– Sue for anything missing. Some people claim that there were laptops in their apartment. The earlier example claimed N500,000. The truth is, nobody – not even the judge can disprove that the items were truly missing or not because there is proof of forced entry and the landlord or his agents have to answer for it.

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