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Low-income earners, middle-class struggle to secure decent apartments in South East

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Shelter is one of the basic needs of life. Yet it is very hard to get this essential need of life. In the South East, rent is exorbitant and way out of the reach of the poor.

The low-income earners and even the middle-class struggle to secure decent apartments.

Landlords and their agents, including lawyers, go the extra mile to compound the problems with their various extra fees. South East governments do not build houses for the low and middle class.

They build only for the rich. Housing estates where they are available, are way out of the reach of the average citizens.

It is only in Enugu State that there are records of houses built and balloted for civil servants but the number is not significant compared to the huge population of the low-income earners.

Also, houses built by real estate developers are not equally affordable. It is common to see housing estates scattered in some of the states in the zone, some completed and some ongoing, but they are far out of the reach of the middle class and the low-income earners.

They cost several millions of Naira to buy, making it exclusive for the rich, government officials, their families and friends of government.

Rent is generally high in all the cities in the South East and the various state governments are not making any visible effort to ameliorate the situation. Rather, they are interested in acquiring any available land either for their selfish interest or to develop for the upper class to buy.

In Anambra State, house rents have increased by about 100% in the major cities of Awka, Nnewi and Onitsha in the past 10 years. Real Estate developers attribute it to slow growth of housing projects in this part of the country.

Records show that in 2010, rents for three, two- and one-bedroom flats in Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi hovered around N200,000 for three bedrooms flat, N160,000 for two bedrooms and N100,000 for one bedroom, but this has increased to more than 150%.

The so-called self-contained apartments are also attracting increasing rent as the demand has become higher because it has become the favourite for students who prefer them to the overcrowded hostels in the various institutions of higher learning in the zone.

Few years ago, a one room apartment could go for about N1200 per annum, but this had gone up to about N6000 per annum.

An estate agent, Mr Nnadi Okeke said the increasing house rent is a function of demand and supply. According to him, the cost of building houses has astronomically gone up such that only few Nigerians can afford to embark on housing projects. The situation, he said, has put so much pressure on the available houses.

The development has forced many people hitherto residing in the cities to relocate to semi-urban and rural areas where house rents are still comparatively cheaper.

It is also common these days to see families down grade from three-bedroom flats to two and even one-bedroom apartment to be able to cope.

Shylock landlords have also devised means of increasing their house rents. For example, many landlords in Awka and Onitsha use the ploy of renovating their houses to increase their rent. Part of the ploy is to inform the tenants of intention to install tiles and repaint the house and once this is completed, the next move is to increase the rent.

Another reason for the increasing rent in the state is the attitude of property agents, who instigate the landlords to increase rent so as to receive higher commission.

One lawyer based in Onitsha is known for sourcing for houses to manage in all the cities in the state.

Recently, he told the landlords of the houses he is managing that they could share the agreement fee if the landlord allows him to increase the rent frequently.

The said lawyer is also in the habit of asking all the occupants of the property to renew their house agreement once he takes over the collection of the rent, irrespective of the number of years the tenant had occupied the property.

And while the lawyer and the tenants argue on the matter, the landlord distances himself, as his only concern is his house rent.

A civil servant Mr Uche Onyedikachi said he had to relocate his family to the village because he could no longer afford the exorbitant house rent in the state capital.

He said: “The luck I have is that I have a house in the village and when it was becoming too difficult for me to pay the rent in Awka, I moved my family to the village.

“With all my children already in secondary school and university, the issue of residing close to school was no longer very necessary.

“It is not that I like the situation I find myself, but the problem was that I could no longer afford the house rent which increased from N24,000 per annum to N250,000, while my salary has not increased much.

“It was also the inability to pay house rent in the city that made me to request that my wife be transferred to a secondary school in a neighbouring community to enable her work from our home in the village”.

Although there are few housing estates in parts of the state, the number of houses being delivered is grossly inadequate to match the increasing population.

Anambra State Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development could not be reached, but an official in his ministry said most of the activities in the ministry centre on encouraging private developers to build housing estates in the state, adding that those who engage in such ventures are given tax reliefs and sometimes provided with land for such projects by the state government.

There was also a plan by a private developer to build 10,000 housing units for civil servants, but that project has remained on paper.

The Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria also planned to build houses for some categories of civil servants and requested for land from the state government. Officials of the Mortgage Bank were actually in Awka to work out modalities for the project with officials of the Anambra State Housing Corporation in 2019, but that project has also remained in the embryo to date.

Tenants in Onitsha tell pathetic stories of their experience in the hands of their landlords, lawyers and house agents, stories of disappointment and rip off.

However, the President of Small and Medium Scale Industrialist in Onitsha, Chief Johnson Okolo, believes that in the face of all these, Onitsha landlords still collect the cheapest rent in South East.

He defended his position with the reason that a lot of people are building houses in the city, unlike other states in the South East, a situation he said gives tenants options and does not give landlords room to intimidate them due to wide choice open to them.

“So, if a landlord harasses his tenants, they can easily move out of the house and relocate to new places.

“Onitsha house rent is cheaper because many people have money and are building in Onitsha and Anambra in general including those living abroad.

“It is such a big competition in Onitsha. There is hardly scarcity of houses for those looking for houses to rent, the issue is where you want to live in Onitsha, not lack of houses to rent.

“There is no doubt that lawyers and house agents are compounding the problems faced by tenants who are looking for houses.

“Their activities do not only negatively affect the tenants but also affect the landlords who use them to collect rent or any fees.

“Most lawyers and house agents are only opportunists who are looking for tenants to dupe. Most of them collect the money and don’t give tenants the house while others do not remit to the accounts of the landlord; they spend the money.

“They collect the rent and spend the money. They deal with both the tenants and the landlords. Nobody is safe in their hands and if it is collected by a lawyer, there is nothing much you can do because he also handles other matters, including legal matters.

“The only thing you can do is to disengage him in managing houses for you, but the one he collected, he has spent it and you can’t do anything.

“I think that third party between landlords and tenants are seriously contributing to the high cost of renting apartments in Onitsha and Anambra in general.

“If the government intends to introduce any regulation, it should be in the area of third party, their activities are not funny to tenants and even the landlords.

“Once they come in, the cost of renting a house increase. Some of them even collect interests from tenants who defaulted in payment and that does not go to the landlords but to their pockets.

“In terms of regulation, I do not think any government can wake up and force on the landlords the rent they should collect in their houses because that government did not make any contribution in building the house.

“You cannot regulate what you did not build or contribute anything in building.

“If, however government is regulating the cost of building materials, like cement which is today N4,000 per bag, then they can regulate the cost of renting of such houses. Will you tell somebody who is buying a bag of cement N4,000, how much he will collect in his house. It is impossible.

“Such laws cannot operate here; they can only operate in other climes, not here in Onitsha because the government is not controlling the price of cement and therefore, cannot tell landlords the amount of money to be collecting as house rent in their houses”, Okolo said.

In Enugu State, the story is the same. According to a political analyst, Mr. James Ugwuoke, securing accommodation is a nightmare to prospective tenants in Enugu metropolis. Ugwuoke who lamented the high rent in the state, particularly Enugu metropolis blamed it on the activities of lawyers and agents, called on the state government to make laws that would regulate the tenancy and curtail the exploitative tendencies of landlords in Enugu.

“Imagine asking a prospective tenant to pay above twenty percent, 20% of the rent as lawyer’s fee. Some landlords will collect rent, legal and agent’s fees.

“A case study is an apartment in Abakpa Nike, owned by a senior staff of Enugu State House of Assembly. More annoying is compulsorily asking a prospective tenant to pay lawyer’s fee that does not exist. Even when it exists, you see that the tenant has paid for the services the lawyer renders to the landlord.

“Sometimes as a tenant, you will live in a particular apartment for five to ten years without knowing/seeing the lawyer in your apartment.

“Enugu State government has not done enough as regards accommodation problems in Enugu. The government has to bring laws that will regulate tenancy in Enugu so as to curtail the exploitative tendencies of landlords in Enugu. Government should also grant waivers on some levies it collects from house owners and build low cost houses for the teeming tenants in Enugu”, Ugwuoke said.

An Enugu based agent gave a breakdown of rents in the metropolis which he said depends on the location and structure. A duplex is rented at a range of between N1.5 million and N2.5 million per annual. He further explained that any rent up to a million naira attracts 10% legal and 10% agent’s fee.

According to him, a 3-bedroom apartment goes for between N450,000 – N850,000; 2-bedroom goes for between N350,000 and N600, 000; self-contained N180,000 – N300,000 while the single rooms are not easily seen.

“Any apartment that is up to a million naira, the tenant will pay 10% to the lawyer and 10% to the agent but any rent not up to a million naira, the tenant have to pay N100,000 or above lawyer’s fee depending on what you bargain with the lawyer and pay from N50,000 to N100,000 to the agent”, he said.

However, a project manager, Advocacy Partners for Good Governance, Comrade Onyebuchi Igboke has expressed displeasure over the activities of lawyers in securing accommodation in Enugu State, claiming that it is fraudulent for a lawyer to ask a tenant for legal fee knowing that he was hired by the landlord/landlady not the tenant.

Igboke who blamed legal, agent and other fees for high rent in Enugu, regretted that effort by his organization to engage the Enugu State House of Assembly to review the 1990 law on tenant was not fruitful.

According to him, the tenant law stipulated that anybody that engages a lawyer should pay him not the tenant. He called on the state government to look into the issue.

“I want to express my displeasure on what I called interference of lawyers’ in-between the tenants and landlords. The Enugu State has a law on tenants but it is now obsolete. The law was very clear in a clear mind that anybody who engages the service of a lawyer should pay him or her and not to the detriment of tenants.

“If you look around today, you will find out that they introduced an illegal fee called lawyer’s fee. There is nothing like lawyer’s fee when you are trying to secure an apartment. It is a fraud in a law made by Enugu State in 1990.

“It is fraud to engage the service of a legal practitioner to look after your properties and tenants will be forced to pay legal fee which doesn’t have formula. They place it according to what they wish and you will ask yourself, if the landlord and tenants are having issues, whose interest will the lawyer protect?

“The law made it clear that anybody that hires a lawyer should pay from whatever accrued as rent not the tenant. It is a high criminality which is outrageous in Enugu State knowing fully that it is the duty of government to provide security and welfare to the people and there is no welfare without shelter.

“We have tried to see if we can move the motion on the floor of Enugu State House of Assembly to amend the existing law which even made classification of what rent should be paid in different kind of apartments and locations in 1990. I wonder what our legislators are doing. They should review the law to protect the tenants now that things are very hard.

“In fact, some people are of the opinion that the house members are reluctant and not bordered to review the law because politicians own most of the properties in Enugu metropolis and they make gain out of the situation”, Igboke said.

In Nsukka, stories abound of blatant exploitation of tenants by landlords, house agents and lawyers contracted by house owners in Nsukka metropolis and environs.

Though, house rent is reasonably fair at some quarters, house seekers decry some back-door deals by agents who charge exorbitant consultation and agent fees.

At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, communities of Odenigwe, Odim Gate, and Hilltop; self-contain room goes for as high as N130, 000 to N180, 000 per a year. However, at Ofuluonu, Odenigbo and Ugwu Oye areas of Nsukka metropolis, two-bedroom flats are rented at prices ranging from N180, 000 to N200, 000 per a year. Three-bedroom flats also go for N300, 000 to N350, 000 depending on the area.

What normally put house seekers off is the sundry fees demanded by the landlords to cover for agents and lawyer fees.

“Sometimes, even when the house seeker found the apartment by himself; some landlords still collect agent fees. and insist on collecting agent fees.”

In Imo states, the residents, especially, also lament high cost of accommodation, saying that it is making it very difficult to survive in Owerri. Some residents of Owerri metropolis narrated their predicaments to Southeast. According to Mr. Ekene Ogaziechi, who lives around fire service junction, said a one bedroom flat goes between N250, 000 and N300, 000.

“It is even very difficult to get accommodation. The time I packed into this house it was N190, 000 and I paid agent fee of N10, 000 and I paid agreement fee to the landlord N10, 000. The total was N210, 000. But now it has gone up. The landlord has increased the rent that I am now paying N250, 000”, Ogaziechi said.

Mr. Uchechukwu, another Owerri resident said: “For two bedrooms flat, I paid N350, 000. I also paid agent fee of N10, 000 and agreement fee of N15, 000”. Residents of Orji area pay N200, 000 one bedroom flat,

“N300, 000 to N350, 000 for two bedrooms flat while three bedrooms flat goes for no less than N450, 000.

According to one resident, “the problem we have now is these people you call the agents. They are the ones encouraging the landlords to put the house at higher price so that they can increase their agent fee. What they are doing in Owerri is disgusting.

They don’t care, they continue to find a way of making the house rent high. They will even collect as from N3000 to N5000, just to go and show you a house. This is very bad and it is causing more hardship for the people who are looking for accommodation”.

In Ebonyi State, rent for residential apartments is still also on the high side, but the rent is determined by the age of the house. Location of the apartment also determines the rent.

The cost of renting a duplex range from N800,000 to N1,000,000; 3-bedroom is between N250,000 and N350,000; 2-bedroom goes for between N200,000 and N250,000, while a self-contain goes for N150,000. A single room is between N80,000 and N100,000.

According to a Civil Servant, Mrs. Janerita Peter, said rent for apartments in Ebonyi has increased over time, considering the cost of building materials across the country.

“Before now, a bag of cement was below N500 but now it is above N3, 000. And so, there is no way rent will not increase. In Ebonyi, these prices are building up.

“We ask the State Government to step in and reduce these prices if not landlords will take advantage of the situation to please themselves and perpetuate social injustice.”

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