James is a sound engineer, working with a prominent oil and gas servicing company in Lagos. He lives in a rented 2- bedroom apartment in the Lekki environs with his wife and younger brother. By all accounts he is an upwardly mobile young man with lots of prospects.
Disaster struck in December 2016, James lost his job due to rationalizations at his company, arising from the national recession. Having been sacked, James found it difficult to pay his bills, including his house rent on time as he was used to doing. After making several demands for the rent for close to 6 months , the landlord came with some thugs and forcibly evicted James and his family from the flat, throwing his property into the street and locking the door. James came to his lawyers for advice on how to deal with the actions of his landlord.
The law is clear on the rights of a landlord and a tenant, especially with respect to the termination of the tenancy and the recovery of possession of the premises by the landlord. In the absence of any clause in the tenancy agreement stating otherwise, the landlord is expected to give the tenant adequate notice to quit and deliver up the premises. This general rule is that a yearly tenant should receive at least 6 months notice, a quarterly and semi-annual tenant is entitled to 3 months notice, while a monthly tenant is entitled to 1 month notice. Failure to issue and serve the proper notice to the tenant renders the notice invalid. The notice should be given before the termination of the existing tenancy, as an additional day’s delay creates a fresh tenancy.
If the tenant still refuses to vacate the premises after the expiration of the quit notice, the next step to take is to serve the tenant with a 7 day Notice of owners intention to apply to recover possession. After this expires, the landlord may then sue the tenant and after the magistrate has heard the matter, the court may make an order evicting the tenant if it is proven that he has breached any of the covenants or is in arrears of rent.
The effect of the forcible and unlawful eviction of James is as follows:
- The landlord committed a crime by forcibly evicting James
- The landlord is in breach of the tenant’s right to quiet possession and enjoyment of the premises.
- The landlord may be liable for assault if himself or any of the thugs assaults James in the process of forcibly removing him from the premises.
These breaches may render the landlord civilly and criminally liable. Consequently, it is essential to follow due process in the termination of tenancies.