It has become expected that landlords and tenants will spar occasionally. There is typically a tense relationship between them owing to a deep mistrust but it should not happen. The relationship between a landlord and his tenant ought to be cordial.
Tenants tend to see landlords as insensitive and selfish. They typically see them as ceasing all opportunities to raise rents and service charges while paying minimum attention to the management of rented facilities. Landlords on the other hand are wary of tenants. During an initial meeting between a landlord and a prospective tenant it is normal for the landlord to ask a lot of questions about what sort of work the prospect is engaged in, where he has previously lived and more. This sometimes leaves the prospect suspecting that the landlord is fishing for ‘moneybags’ who would be able to pay easily when there are rent increases and for several high bills which the landlord may present to them through the period of their tenancy. Each party usually has some distrust for the other. Which of these two parties is the mischievous one? There is no plain answer to the question.
No two landlords or tenants are the same. Some landlords and some tenants are very gentle and considerate. Others are not. The various experiences each of us has had through our lives have shaped us into the people who we are today. Landlords tend to become demanding on tenants based on experiences they have had in the past or based on experiences that have been narrated to them. It is very common to find facilities where tenants abuse the rights and privileges of privacy that they have and end up damaging property that the landlord may not be able to replace even with the full value of rent collected, assuming the tenant pays his rent regularly. In these situations it is difficult for the landlord to recover his money and so landlords are naturally wary. Such situations are not easy for tenants to appreciate because the viewpoint is different for them. A tenant may feel that a landlord should trust him by default. The tenant may feel that he should have the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assurances of compliance with agreements but such trust is something that must sometimes be earned and not simply be given.
In the case of tenants, previous experiences too sometimes mar trust in their landlords. Some tenants have incurred expenses making repairs to the facilities of their landlords under a gentleman’s agreement assuming that at the time of the next rent the cost of such expenses would be discounted from their due payments but they have sometimes ended up disappointed because of denials from the landlord or because of some technicality that they had not factored in while doing the repairs. With situations like that, upon moving into a new home the average tenant may be aggressive against any action or statement by a landlord that reminds him of how a previous landlord had reneged on an agreement made. These are real issues.
How can both parties manage their relationship as peacefully as possible? There is no sure guarantee but what is the first and probably most important factor is the formal signing of an agreement. Landlord-tenant relationships can start and develop beautifully with defining and agreeing on expectations from the onset. The challenge is that when it comes to agreements there is usually a one-size-fits-all manner of thinking. Landlords typically draw up the tenancy agreements through their lawyers or agents and it is assumed that the tenant will accept it. Some tenants do not take the time to read through agreements properly. Some who may read an agreement may not realise that they do not have to accept it as it is initially drafted. They do not necessarily realise that they can request an adjustment to an agreement draft.
Adjustments really matter when the terms of an agreement are not reasonable for one party. A tenant may not be comfortable with the terms of a proposed agreement and so he should be able to request a modification. If the drafter insists that he will not change the terms of an agreement, it might be better for the other party to refuse and continue his search for another property to rent. In addition, a tenant may find that something important that was verbally agreed upon with the landlord is not mentioned in the draft agreement. Whatever is not documented does not exist and so a problem may arise in the future where the tenant feels betrayed by the landlord or his representative who may not be privy to the verbal agreement.
Written agreements serve to remind people of expectations, roles and responsibilities. They are vital in many areas of endeavour and landlord-tenant relationships are not the least of them. They may not be a perfect way of ensuring peace between a landlord and tenant but they are a starting point and in the worse scenarios, where agreements are breached, the offended party will have documented evidence to make a claim of a breach of an agreement. If you have other suggestions on how to manage the landlord-tenant palaver in Nigeria, please make a comment below.