Understanding Your Rights: A Detailed Look at Tenancy Agreements

The Nigerian tenancy law allows the tenant a tenancy agreement in  either written or oral  form. While  both forms are  allowed, in the Nigerian real estate space, the written agreement is usually the most preferred. The tenancy agreement is usually written in white and black which tends to put both landlord and tenant on the safe side in case of unforeseen circumstance in the future. A tenancy agreement usually serves as a “terms and condition” in which both the landlord and tenant agrees to. The agreement is expected to contain a number of legally binding items to be considered valid. Some of the details that must be expressly included in the agreement are:

  • The name of the landlord and the name of the tenant
  • Details of the type of property that’s being rented out
  • The location of the property being let out including the features that come with it
  • The duration for which the rent will cover(e.g  6 months, a year, two years)
  • The amount being received as rent
  • The date payment was received
  • The terms for an upward review of the rent
  • The period of ‘quit notice’ to be served on the tenant
  • Who is responsible for repair works within and around the property
  • The party responsible for expenses like water, electricity and waste disposal
  • A post office stamp must be affixed  which makes it acceptable in court as an evidence

Types of Tenancy in Nigeria

There are different types of tenancy agreement in Nigeria and each has its own unique characteristics. Here are the different types of tenancy and how they will affect the decision to evict a tenant.

Tenancy at Will

A tenancy at will refers to a scenario where the landlord allows the  tenant use the property for an undefined period of time.

In simple terms, a tenant at will is that tenant who the landlord gives permission to use a property for an indefinite period rent free or a tenant that’s allowed to remain in the property after his/her rent expires.

 In this case, there is usually no advance understanding of the termination date. It is called tenant at will because the landlord allowed the tenant to keep living in the property by his own will not because the law permits it.

Tenancy at will is usually being confused with tenancy at sufferance which are two completely different scenarios. In tenancy at will , the landlord willingly allows the tenant to remain in possession of the property while a tenant at sufferance is in possession of the property at the expiration of rent not at the authorization of the landlord.

Periodic Tenancy

Periodic tenancy is a type of rental agreement that lasts for a specific period, which could be based on how often rent is paid (monthly, quarterly, half-yearly, or yearly) or in units of time like months or years. For example, if you pay rent every month or sign a one-year lease, you have a periodic tenancy.

When the agreed time period ends, this type of tenancy is often renewable by paying rent for another term. So, if you want to continue living there, you can usually do so by paying rent for the next period.

To end this kind of tenancy, a proper “Notice to Quit” needs to be given. Depending on the state or location, different notice periods are required. For instance, in Lagos State, if you have a yearly tenancy, you need to give the tenant a six-month notice before asking them to leave. For a half-yearly tenant, it’s three months notice, and for a quarterly or monthly tenant, it’s one month notice. Similar rules apply in other regions like Abuja, Cross River State, and Delta State.

Fixed-Term Tenancy

A fixed-term tenancy is a rental agreement that lasts for a specific period of time with a clear start and end date. It can be for a short period, but it has a definite duration. For example, a “one year certain” tenancy means the rental agreement is for one year exactly.

When the agreed-upon time period ends, the tenancy automatically comes to an end. Alternatively, if the tenant violates any of the explicit or implied terms of the tenancy, the landlord can terminate the tenancy through a process called “forfeiture.”

After the fixed term is over, if the tenant continues to pay rent at the same rate as before, they will be considered a “year to year” tenant under similar terms as the expired tenancy, as long as those terms are applicable and not in conflict with a year-to-year tenancy.

To end the tenancy after the fixed term, the landlord must serve the tenant with a notice stating their intention to apply to court to regain possession of the property.

In some cases, the tenancy agreement may explicitly state the word “certain” to specify the period given for the tenancy.

Statutory tenant

In the case of Oduye v. Nigeria Airways Ltd (1987), a statutory tenant is defined as someone who continues to occupy a property after their contractual tenancy has expired. This continuation of occupancy is allowed by special statutory provisions, and it happens against the will of the property owner, who wants to evict them. In simple terms, a statutory tenant is someone who stays on the property even after their rental agreement has ended, and the law protects them from immediate eviction.

Unlike other types of tenancies, a statutory tenancy is not created through an agreement between the parties but rather through a legal process. It is more like a permission or license granted by the law. The tenant cannot transfer this right to another person, and if they leave the property voluntarily, they lose their protected status. If they later return and reoccupy the property, they will be considered a squatter, lacking the legal protection they had as a statutory tenant.

To end a statutory tenancy, the property owner must follow specific legal procedures, such as serving a statutory notice, and if necessary, obtaining a writ of possession from the court.

Tenancy By estoppel

A tenancy by estoppel is created when someone leases or rents out a property that they do not actually own or have any legal interest in. In this situation, both the landlord (lessor) and the tenant (lessee) are legally prevented from denying the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship. Even though the person leasing the property may not be the true owner, the tenant is still considered a lawful tenant, and the lease agreement they entered into is legally binding.

The terms of the tenancy are determined by the lease agreement that was explicitly agreed upon by both parties.

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