The Lagos State government has vowed to protect tenants from those it described as “Shylock landlords” who might be planning to use the recent increase in land use charges in the state to arbitrarily increase rent.
The state’s Commissioner for Information, Kehinde Bamigbetan, told journalists at a press conference in Lagos on Saturday afternoon that Lagosians should allay the fear that the government’s controversial hike in property taxes will lead to an astronomical increase rent as government has decided to side with tenants and will vigorously implements its tenancy and consumer protection legislation to curb capricious increases in rent.
“We would side with the tenants in their struggle,” Mr Bamigbetan said.
“We are strengthening our tenancy law. We are going to back the tenants against Shylock landlords,” he added.
The Lagos State Tenancy Law 2011 was hailed for prohibiting landlords from demanding in excess of one year’s rent from prospective tenants and for making it criminal for landlords to demand or receive rent in excess of 6 months for a monthly tenant, or 1 year from a yearly tenant. It is also unlawful for the sitting tenant to offer or pay rent in excess of 1 year for a yearly tenant and 6 months for a monthly tenant.
While inaugurating the board of the state Consumer Protection Agency in January, the State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, said the agency was “a strong demonstration of our commitment to the protection of the rights of consumers, the promotion of consumer satisfaction in the State and our resolve to ensure that they get value for money spent on goods and services.”
He also said as the commercial nerve-centre of the country, the agency is charged to address infractions on consumers rights and will complement his administation’s reform towards the ease of doing business in the state.
It, however, remain to be seen if the government will match its words with action. The Lagos state government has a history of not enforcing non-revenue generating laws.
A widespread outrage greeted the government’s announcement of increases in land use charges. Residents, pressure groups and professional organisations in the states have called on the government to reverse the increases.
Many residents argued that the increases will result in a hike in rent across the state as landlord will transfer the new charges to tenants.
“It is clear that if these regimes of tax are allowed to stay, Lagos state would have been turned into a toxic environment and a living hell. Even ordinarily in Lagos state, accommodation is only cheap and easily affordable i.e. for those who have the parks and under the bridge to sleep and dwell,” said Adesina Ogunlana, the chairman of the Ikeja branch of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), in a statement.
But the government had argued that the increases were marginal, and the charges had remained the same for 15 years despite the provision of the law stipulating an upward review of the charges every five years. It also argued that retirees and religious organisations were exempted from paying taxes on their properties.
“Lagos needs funds to build infrastructures”
Reeling out a list of projects and programmes the government embarked upon, Mr Gamigbetan explained that the funds to be generated from the increase in the land use charges will be put to proper use. He said that many of projects embarked upon were financed with funds generated from short-term loans and bonds. He said but the government has come to realise that it was not sustainable in the long-run.
He said the government has a vision to bring the state to par with some of the best cities in the world. But money is required to put the infrastructures in place.
On education, Mr Bamigbetan said the state requires as much as N180 billion to rehabilitate classrooms and N20 billion of that amount was released last year.
He painted an ugly picture of the what the future holds for youth in the state if the government is unable to raise enough funds to put the right amenities in place.
He said if the government was thinking in the short-term, it would not stir the hornet’s nest by increasing the land use charge. He said the government believes that difficult choices have to be made now to guarantee the rosy future the government is working towards for the state.
“The general assessment, compared to other states government, is that it has a high approval rating. Why would the government stoke the embers of controversy? Why will it go on a mission that will hurt its own self-interest to continuously be in the minds of the people in a positive light?” he asked.