Landlords in Nigeria have become Shylocks, compelling their tenants to pay not just the exorbitant rent but also to cough out an unimaginable two years rent upfront, at the point of entry. In some cases, the tenant will pay agent’s fee.
The rent on accommodation in most Nigerian towns and cities is generally high due largely to the huge housing deficit in the country. The demand for houses is far higher than the supply everywhere in Nigeria except perhaps in Benin City, the Edo State capital, where house rent is reasonably cheap. Another town where house rent is reasonable is Ughelli in Delta State.
Beyond the generally high cost across the country, cities like Port Harcourt, Lagos and Abuja are in a class of their own. The cost of renting houses in these cities is beyond the capacity of the average civil servant, except such civil servants are engaged in some other ventures that fetch them some extra income.
Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, is not in the same league as Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt but the rent is very high mainly because there are so many prospective tenants pursuing the few houses available.
When the state was created out of the old Rivers State in 1996, because of the acute shortage of residential accommodation, civil servants were shuttling from Port Harcourt, where their families were, to Yenagoa, on a daily basis!
Those who could not afford both the cost of transportation and the risk associated with travelling, did their shuttling weekly. They will come to work from Port Harcourt on Monday and return on Friday, after work, and sleeping in the office at night during the week when they are in Yenagoa.
The situation may have improved as such civil servants have all fully relocated to Yenagoa and no longer have to sleep in their offices at night but the issue of exorbitant cost of rent is still there. For an average civil servant to secure a modest residential accommodation in Yenagoa, he must have saved money for a couple of years.
Paying house rent in Yenagoa is a nightmarish experience. For someone in a two-bedroom apartment, the moment he pays his annual rent of between N450,000 and N500,000, is when he begins to save the money for next year’s rent otherwise he may be caught napping. It is a vicious circle, he pays for this year and immediately begins to plan for next year.
It almost strangulates the average worker, leaving him with no extra cash for occasional leisure as he also has to contend with his children’s school fees and clothing as well as upkeep of the family. The situation pauperises the civil servant, who has nowhere to turn to for succour. Under this scenario, owning his own house is a luxurious dream the civil servant cannot afford to indulge in.
When asked how much was the going rate for one, two and three-bedroom apartments in Yenagoa, a Yenagoa-based estate agent, Ifiemi Kenigbolo said, “a number of factors determine the price of the house. These factors include the area where the house in question is located, whether in a village environment like across the Epie Creek, or in the outskirts of Yenagoa or within the city proper”.
Continuing, Kenigbolo said “It also depends on whether the facility is an old or modern building and also if the compound is fenced or has potable water. If the compound is fenced, thus guaranteeing security, or the landlord has a borehole for the tenants’ use, then certainly, the rent will be higher”.
According to him, “a self-contained apartment goes for between N160,000 to N200,000, one-bedroom flat is between N300,000 and N350,000.while a two-bedroom flat is between N450,000 and N500,000. A three-bedroom flat goes for N600,000 and above. As I said earlier, these prices are not fixed, they depend on the area and the facilities available in the property”.
Ayakeme Anesakeme, an Information Officer in the Bayelsa State Ministry of Information, Strategy and Orientation, said “for a young officer with a monthly salary of between N76,000 and N85,000, to secure a one-bedroom flat of between N280,000 and N350,000, and the landlord is asking for two years rent upfront, such a prospective tenant must have saved money for about two or three years.
“In addition to saving, the prospective tenant may have to complement with monies from other sources like loans from banks or thrift societies popularly called “Osusu”. The tenant also has to contend with agents’ fee. Getting a house to rent in Yenagoa is like the proverbial camel passing through the eyes of the needle. It is not easy at all”, he enthused.
The state government can ameliorate the hardship of tenants, especially prospective ones, who have to pay two years’ rent upfront, by building low-cost housing estates of one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments for middle level civil servants as well as non-civil servants.
Since government alone cannot build houses for everybody, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly can come to the rescue. The state lawmakers can borrow from the experience of the Senate, which recently came up with a bill to regulate house rent in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Knowing how difficult and exorbitant it is for federal civil servants in Abuja to secure residential accommodation, the Senate, through a bill, sponsored by Senator Smart Adeyemi, representing Kogi West Senatorial District, seeks to compel landlords in Abuja to collect house rents on monthly basis instead of yearly, and also to reduce the one, or two years’ rent collected from prospective tenants upfront, to three months.
Contributing to the discourse, a resident of Yenagoa, who pleaded anonymity, said “I heard the Nigerian Senate is currently debating on a bill to strip Abuja landlords of the powers to collect two years rent upfront from prospective tenants. What we need in this state right now is for the members of the state assembly to pass such a bill. If the assemblymen do that, we will be very grateful”.
If the members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly can push such a bill through, it will go down as one of the most people-oriented bills it has ever passed.