You probably have a landlord. If you don’t have one, you are among the few.
Typically, landlords own land which they then let/rent/lease to interested persons who are usually called tenants/lessees. The landlord-tenant relationship is created by a lease or tenancy and it is often advisable to reduce that relationship into writing. But then, even when it is not expressly presented in written form, the law regards it as a landlord-tenant relationship from its facts.
By law, the landlord owes several duties to the tenant and it does not matter that those duties are not contained in the tenancy/lease agreement. The duties of a landlord revolve around the following:
- Security deposit
- Disclosure of owner
- Vacant and quiet possession
Before a tenant/lessee (for convenience purposes, the word tenant will be used hereinafter to mean both a tenant and lessee; and the variation “tenancy” will be used hereinafter to mean both a tenancy and a lease) occupies the landlord’s land, they are usually required to make a security deposit. The security deposit does not form part of the rent and is mean to guarantee that the tenant will meet their duties under the tenancy. Upon termination of the tenancy, the security deposit should be refunded.
It is every landlord’s right to charge his tenants a security deposit but this right comes bridled with the duty to refund that deposit upon termination of the tenancy.
Disclosure of owner
It is common to enter into an agreement with another person who seems a landlord, when actually; they are agents of the landlord. In such circumstances, the agent is obliged to disclose to the tenant that he is an agent of the landlord. Even when property is jointly owned, the landlord must disclose that there is another landlord or other landlords who have equal or varied rights in the property.
Information about the names, addresses, and phone numbers/emails of persons with the power to manage the land, collect rent, make repairs, to whom complaints should be addressed and notices issued should be communicated.
The above information should be disclosed at the time of negotiating the tenancy. If any changes occur during the subsistence of the tenancy, the same should be communicated to the tenant promptly.
This disclosure is important to for the landlord-tenant relationship because it helps to streamline the channel of communication about any issue regarding the land, including legal issues.
In the instance that the above disclosure is not made, then the tenant has the right to address any issue regarding the land to the person who collects the rent.
Vacant and quiet possession
A tenant has the right to enter the premises when they are fit for the purpose which they have taken it. For example, when one rents a house, they should not be subjected to sharing the house or its compound with another person from whom the landlord may or may not be collecting rent. As such, if there is any squatter on the land the subject of a tenancy agreement, the landlord should pursue legal action against such a squatter.
Every tenant has the right to vacant possession of the land, the subject of the relevant tenancy agreement. This means that the tenant has the right to enjoy the use of the land without the unreasonable interference of the landlord. Visits to the property must be on reasonable notice and entry must be consented to.
It therefore follows that it is every landlord’s right to ensure that the tenant has vacant and quiet possession of the land.
It is the landlord’s duty to maintain the property in a tenantable condition. The floors, walls, stairs, sewerage systems, plumbing, electricity, roofing, rubbish disposal, and ventilation must be well maintained, and kept in good working condition. The property must also be kept clean, safe and habitable. Manholes must be covered tight and there should be a guarantee of basic security for the tenant’s property.
Where there is a lapse in maintenance of the property, a tenant has the right to protest and to demand for any of the above to be put in a good working condition.
The landlord is liable for all his duties under the tenancy agreement, common law and as set by statute. The landlord is however freed of his duties when he sells the property. A sale of the property means a change in whom the landlord is and the same must be communicated to the tenant promptly.
More so, the deposit which the tenant paid to the old landlord must be transferred to the new landlord so that the tenant can well claim the sum from them upon termination of the tenancy. A new landlord is liable to the tenant in the same measure the old landlord was.
The duties of the landlord when well exercised lead to a good landlord-tenant relationship. But it takes two make a good relationship. The tenant must also adhere to their obligations which we shall discuss in the next issue of the Deuteronomy.
Don’t let your landlord abdicate his duties. Call him, write him emails and make sure that your rent is worth the stay. However, don’t be troublesome! If you are a landlord, deliver on your duties. Sometimes, all that tenants want is an interdependent relationship where they reciprocate the good done by the land (the landlord’s compliance with his or her duties)
Enjoy your landlord-tenant relationship!
BY SAMALI BITALA
This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 7, Issue 2 of July 14th, 2017
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