How to Evict a Tenant Lawfully

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Ejecting a tenant can be a very daunting task and many landlords and agents usually resort to self help. Self help is the ultimate use of ones efforts to evict a tenant from their premises and this includes: changing the key locks of the tenant's building, mobilizing uniformed personnel to forcefully remove the tenant and their belongings from the premises, seizing the tenant's property and/or employing other forceful ejection mechanisms.

It is without doubt that a landlord, being the owner of the premises, may decide to eject a tenant simply because they intend to use their premises. However, the law provides a specific procedure which must be followed for as self help is not advisable.

This article will describe the circumstances that may give rise to a tenant's ejection and the procedure for ejection under the Nigerian Law.

Definition of Terms

The tenant/lessee is a party who has been granted the right to the use and occupation of the landlord's property usually for a rent. The right is usually granted to the tenant to use the rental property for residential and/or commercial purposes and for a fixed period or periodically (such as yearly, monthly, weekly, etc.).

The landlord/lessor is the party who owns the rental property and grants the right to the use of the rental property to the tenant. The landlord retains the reversionary interest in the rental property, that means that at the expiration or termination of the tenant's lease, the landlord retains all the rights and interest in the property.

The rental property or the demised premises is the property that has been leased to the tenant for rent.

When Can a Tenant Be Ejected?

Under the Lagos State Tenancy law, 2011, a landlord can commence the eviction process if one or more of the following circumstances are present:

- if the tenant violates a fundamental clause in the tenancy agreement. If the tenant flouts any fundamental term in the lease agreement, such as payment of rent, violating any covenant in the agreement, etc, this constitutes a breach of contract and the landlord in such case has the right to eject the tenant from the rental property;

- if the tenant is in arrears of rent. If upon several demands, the tenant fails to pay the rent, the tenant should be notified in writing by late rent notice and if payment is not made, the landlord can commence the ejection process;

- if the landlord requires the use of the rental property. The landlord can choose to eject a tenant if the landlord wishes to use the rental property. If the tenancy is for a fixed term, it is important for the landlord to allow the term to expire before ejecting the tenant. However, if it is a periodic tenancy, the landlord can terminate the tenancy after the period for which payment has been made has expired;

- if the tenant is using the rental property for illicit or immoral purposes. If the tenant is using the landlord's property for immoral or illegal purpose such as robbery, prostitution, etc, the landlord can eject the tenant from the rental property;

- if the property is unsafe for habitation which constitutes a danger to human life. When the the rental property is collapsing, or the building structures have been totally destroyed, etc, the property is said to be unsafe for habitation and in such cases, the tenant can be ejected from the rental property;

- if the rental property has been abandoned. If the tenant deserts the rental property, the tenant can be ejected from the rental property.

The Forms of Leases

Under the law, the process of ejecting a tenant largely depends on the type of lease that was created, for this purpose, we shall highlight the different forms of leases under the Nigerian law:

1. Periodic leases

This is a lease that has a commencement date but no end date. The tenancy continues until it is terminated by either the tenant or the landlord upon the issuance of a written notice. The forms of periodic tenancies are weekly tenancies, monthly tenancies, yearly tenancies, quarterly tenancies etc. The weekly tenant pays rent every week, the monthly tenant pays rent every month, the yearly tenant pays the rent every year and the quarterly tenant pays rent every three months until the tenancy is terminated.

2. Fixed-term leases

This type of lease lasts for a specified period as agreed by the parties. In this case, once this period expires, the tenant is required to vacate the premises except the tenancy is renewed. Also, once the period of tenancy expires, the landlord is not required to issue a quit notice, the landlord is only required to issue a seven days owner's intention to recover possession.

The Process of Evicting a Tenant

Step One

The first step is to inquire if the tenant is in arrears of rent. In this case, the landlord or its authorized agent is required a Late Rent Notice to the tenant. Under the law, a landlord can seek an order of possession and an order for the recovery of unpaid rent in court. The landlord will be required to provide an evidence of the non-payment of arrears of rent in court.

Step Two

If the landlord intends to terminate the lease, the landlord or an authorized agent (for example his lawyer) should issue a notice to quit on the tenant. According to the law, the landlord is not required to issue the notice to quit on a tenant in a fixed-term lease provided the lease term has expired and in this case, the landlord can issue a seven days owner's intention to recover possession.

However, it is mandatory for a landlord to issue this notice for periodic leases and length of the notice to quit depends on the agreement of the parties. For example in a residential lease or commercial lease, the contract may specify that in the case the landlord wishes to terminate a yearly lease, only two weeks notice will be issued.

However, if the contract does not specify the length of notice, the provisions of the law will apply. In this case, under the Lagos State Tenancy Law, the following provisions will apply:

- for a yearly tenant, the landlord will issue a six months notice;

- for a quarterly or half yearly tenant, at least three months notice;

- for a monthly tenant, at least one month notice;

- for a weekly tenant, at least one week notice.

Note that for a fixed-term lease, the landlord is not required to issue a notice to quit at the expiration of the lease term (except in cases where the tenancy was terminated by the landlord before the expiration of the term).

Step Three

If the tenant refuses to vacate the rental property after the expiration of the quit notice, the landlord or his attorney will issue a seven days owner's intention to recover possession to the tenant. Note that this type of notice is required for the two forms of leases.

Step Four

Once all notices have expired and the tenant refuses to vacate the rental property, the landlord can within seven days from the expiration of the notice of owner's intention to recover possession, commence an action in court for recovery of premises. The landlord can in addition to the claim for recovery, make claims for arrears of rent and mense profits.

This is a court process that requires calling of witnesses and other evidence and judgement will be delivered by the court who will order the tenant to vacate the premises either immediately or on a specified date.

Note that this procedure applies only if the landlord intends to terminate the lease. However, if the tenant intends to terminate the lease, he/she is only required to issue a Notice of Termination of Tenancy to the landlord and vacate the rental property.

About the Author

Vivian Umelue is an attorney and legal templates programmer at Wonder.Legal and is based in Nigeria.

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