Recently I was opportune to be part of a discussion or a heated argument on outrageous rent increase between a property owner and his occupier, in the heat of the argument the occupier claimed that what he pays as rent for his apartment is too high.
Besides he avowed that, the property owner is guilty of or has the habit of unreasonably and incessantly increasing his rent almost every year which he has always complied with until now but somehow he is not in anyway willing or ready to entertain such unreasonable increments again.
On the other hand, the property owner, whom at this point has already made up his mind to have the occupier evicted from the apartment denied all these allegations of unreasonable and incessant increase of rent and his reasons for his actions is rather the unreasonable increase in number of occupants living in the apartment and not unreasonable increase in rent as argued and alleged by the occupier and according to the property owner constitutes a higher stress on the apartment and the building compared to when he initially moved in.
He further stated that, when the occupier first moved into the apartment, he moved in alone as a bachelor and in less than six months brought in someone he introduced as his girlfriend and in few years the number of people in the apartment rose to seven, additional two children and three family friends or relations from his home town.
For some time now, l have been ruminating on this incubus and I later suss that many of these avoidable and otiose problems of unreasonable rent increase and rent overcharges as the case may be in some part can directly be linked with lack of functional rent control system as well as lack of knowledge and understanding of the provision of the law and its process on this issue.
If you ask me, It may also be due to the lack of understanding of the aggrieved party’s right and of course, the fact that the process of resolving issues and concerns on unreasonable rent increase and overcharges are only implicit in the rent control laws is not helping much because the laws are not properly enunciated in my own opinion.
As a result, this is responsible for most of the issues and problems on incessant rent increase and why some occupiers pay outrageous rent amount on their leased apartments which buttress my points on the need to revivify the rent control laws as well as our tenancy law.
Another not so obvious reasons for this avoidable problem between property owners and occupiers is that when the number of occupants in an apartment increases, the occupier will suddenly discover or realize that the apartment is too small for him and his family. Often time, this instinctively raises some pressing issues as well as create some feeling of dissatisfaction which may make the occupier want to leave the apartment for a better and larger apartment for their family and most times property owners are not always happy with this.
This emotional feeling of dissatisfaction will not only affect or dent the relationship between the occupier and the property owner but also will make rent payment extremely difficult talk less of entertaining a rent increase request because of the fact that the occupier might have made plans to secure a larger apartment and not interested in any rent increase arrangement.
As we all know, if the property owner and the occupier disagree especially on issues of rent, most times and somehow leads to many other interconnected issues on the occupier’s past failed activities, responsibility and obligations as an occupier in the building which must have been laid to rest will be revisited again and of course problems with other occupiers in the building.
It might also interest you to know that from all indication neither the property owners nor the occupiers love to settle their issues of unreasonable rent increase in court even though they have a good case at hand and the ostensible reason for not seeking redress in court is the burdensome process, unnecessary delay in getting judgment and the ruinous legal fee to pursuit such a case in court.
Besides their morale and confidence may also be subdued and obliterated by the poor and not so impressive, inefficient and ineffective court system which is known for numerous adjournments of case hearing and appearances in court that can sap their money, time and energy.
And as a result, many often resolve to very uncivilized ways and methods of handling or resolving the issues of rent overcharges and unreasonable rent increase disregarding all legitimate means and provisions of the laws as regard this issue.
Some occupiers decide not to pay any more rent with the hope of taking advantage of the inadequacies and inefficient of the court system and process which may last for a year or two if they are fortunate. This action or decision, no doubt create more problems or worsen the situation which may lead to the property owner starting an eviction case proceedings in the court of law.
Ironically or unfortunately both the occupier and the property owner may as well find themselves in court doing or going through the burdensome process they tried to avoid in the first place.
My concerns in this are, I find it difficult to fathom why someone with a good case on unreasonable rent increase and overcharges would prefer not to resolve or settle the case in court and my good guess for this decision could probably be lack of understanding of their rights and the process or they are not aware of the existence of such provision in the tenancy law if not in the rent control laws.
For this reason, I find it necessary to write this post not only to sensitize but also to edify the people on the practical steps or how they can successfully and tactfully tackle, deal with or go about the process of resolving unreasonable rent increase and overcharges in rent.
The last time I checked, the tenancy law only encourages occupiers to escalate, apply or file in court an order declaring rent increase as outrageous and unreasonable but unfortunately the provision fails to delineate in details the process and how exactly the issues could be resolved which got many occupiers confused and the truth is many property owners don’t even know how or when to lawfully increase rent and the process legitimately achieve this is surprisingly not in existence.
Hence and patently in my opinion account for why homeowners incessantly and preposterously increase rent whenever and anytime they feel like and if you use me is not acceptable, illegal and condemnable.
It might also interest you to know that many property owners increase the rent of their apartments just because they need money to throw a party for their loved ones to celebrate events such as wedding, birthday and burial ceremonies to an extent that if any of their occupiers do same or by chance bought a new car, it is a very good enough reason and ground to increase rent.
Many now monitor and watch out for some of these events and changes in the life of their occupiers to increase rent, something that should never happen if we have a functional rent control and regulation law and systems in place that could ordinarily take care of some of these contentious issue in property owners and occupiers relationship as we have in civilized countries.
No one has the right to unreasonably increase rent illegally in organized set up especially in developed nations of the world, where they have a functional rent control laws in place that restrict the activities, checkmate the excesses of property owners and occupiers as well as protect the interest of the occupier against illegal rent increase and overcharges.
This easily is achieved simply because of the heavy civil punishment and penalty pass down on to property owners found guilty of this offence, If established that an overcharge occurred or there was evidence of an unreasonable rent increment that the property owner actually received an outrageous rent amount for his apartment that is unreasonable and above the legal regulated rent.
In this part of the world, you may need to commit the offence and go through the process of resolving the issue in court before you know or understand what the outcome of such cases would be like but this is not same with civilized countries where transparency, accountability and accessibility is key and paramount to resolving contentious issues particularly on property owner and occupier relationship.
I would love to stress how serious this offence is in an organized set up, any property owner found guilty of unreasonable rent increase and rent overcharges by a competent court is heavily punished to deter others from committing the same offence. They are often time ask to refund in three folds of not only the overcharged amount on the legal rent but also with interest.
But in Nigeria, no one knows the penalty for this offence because we dwell in darkness and secrecy in virtually all if not in all we do as a people and as a nation. Many consider the know of this by the public as threats to the existence of their black economy.
My advice to occupiers who feel that they pay outrageous rent amount for their apartments and who are not satisfied with incessant and unreasonable rent increase is to first open a discussion on the issues with the property owner and if they disagree and could not come to terms or reach a mutually acceptable settlement then I surmise its time to seek professional advice from a solicitor.
It is important to seek professional advice because if there is a deadlock and both parties disagree, it would likely lead to or end up in an eviction case proceedings in the court of law and you need a solicitor who is knowledgeable in real estate issues especially property owner and occupier relationship.
Notwithstanding, let me take my time to quickly walk you through the steps and process to successfully and tactfully tackle issues of unreasonable rent increase and rent overcharges as it is done in civilized countries of the world.
If you think you are paying too much as rent for your apartment, the appropriate thing to do is lodge a complaint by filing for a case of rent overcharges with the body responsible for rent control and regulation administration, whom now give an administrative order for reversal or adjustment of rent as well as summons and expects a rebuttal from the property owner within or at least a month after which the complaint was lodged.
This process is so easy and convenient for the rent control and administration body to determine, thanks to the initial investment property registration law by property owners. It gives the body access to all the rent history and previous records of the actual legal rent paid by occupiers on the same apartment which of course is also accessible to the public but for the benefit of doubt, it would still want to hear from the property owner to understand the reason or grounds for the unreasonable increase or rent overcharges.
If the property owner challenges the administrative order or the correctness of the order within the time frame given to file a Petition for Administrative Review, this step or action could delay the refund penalty order but not the rent reversal or adjustment based on the records they have with them.
The occupier at this point would not have the opportunity to exercise the refund penalty until the case is revisited by the rent control and administration body and after it thoroughly considered and studied the Petition for Administrative Review filed by the property owner.
The body would now decide on the case based on the facts they have before them and if its outcome or order on the case of unreasonable rent increase, rent overcharges and refund penalty is unacceptable to any of the parties then the badly affected party may begin a court proceedings with the hope that the court will exculpate him or her of the illegal rent increase or rent overcharges case.
However, If the property owner is also found guilty of the offence by a competent court of law then the occupier would be awarded a judgment, he would be refunded with the overcharged rent amount, most times in three folds of the overcharged amount on the legal rent as well as interest as I have stated earlier in this post and can be enforced in different ways.
The enforcement of rent overcharge penalty or punishment is entirely on the volition of the occupier and one of most preferred ways is known as the Offset Method which allow the occupier to Offset the rent overcharges by deducting about 15% to 20% of the penalty from subsequence monthly legal rent until the penalty is Offset.
The only major setback or concerns in applying the Offset Method is that sometimes this 15% and 20% of the penalty may exceed the occupier’s monthly rent and in the event of such it simply means the occupier is excused from rent payments until all the full penalty rent overcharge amount refund is completely paid or refunded to the occupier.
Another way rent overcharge penalty is enforced is known as Judgment Method which is often preferable when the occupier is no more in the leased apartment and the rent overcharge amount penalty to be refunded is reasonably high.
Usually the Judgment Method allow the court to place a lien on the property particularly if the property owner fails to meet up with the court order or fails to satisfy the court order within the time frame given by the court.
Its quite unfortunately and disturbing that many don’t know about the benefits, these processes and also are not aware of the punitive measure and civil penalty rent overcharge and unreasonable rent increase attract and they most times settle for uncivilized and primitive way of resolving their rent disputes.
Unfortunately our rent control and regulation law and system are not functioning at the moment but if we could at least revivify it and fully entrench it, it will not only deter property owners from illegal and unreasonable rent increase but also allow for smooth and easy administration and execution of the process of rent control.
In addition to that, the ineffective and inefficient of our court system at the moment calls for a more drastic measure to improve upon the delivery of judgment which will in turn encourage any aggrieved party with a good case to seek redress in court without entertaining any fear.
In my opinion, this action steps will go a long way to reduce the unnecessary use of expletives which many times lead to chaos and fracas and some use disregard the court system to apply very uncivilized and primitive ways in resolving their rent disputes which many times lead to loss of life.
Finally I think the government must consider putting in place a functional and sustainable rent control and administration system and failure to do this things will degenerate and it will allow everyone carteblanche to not only behave, act and react unlawfully to issues but also to illegally, incessantly and unreasonable increase rent anytime, anyway and anyhow they like.
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