Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rebranding Lagos......

The decision of the Lagos state government to force owners of properties on major highways to “re-paint” their properties definitely needs a “rethink”. According to media reports, owners of properties along major highways were given 90-day ultimatum to undertake aesthetic improvements to their properties. This initiative, according to the Commissioner of Environment, Muiz Banire is in line with the Lagos Mega City Project. However following non-compliance, the Commissioner warned that “the state government would invoke its powers under Section 28 of the Land Use Act to seize properties of defaulters”.

In an effort to “rebrand” Lagos state, Gov. Fashola embarked on the Lagos Beautification Project -  also known as “Operation Green Lagos”. The beautification project which is part of the Lagos Mega City Project, has so far resulted in provision of luxuriant vegetation, aesthetically appealing sites, and more importantly the reclamation of public parks and open spaces. Whilst there is no doubt that these cosmetic environmental upgrade have been beneficial, Gov. Fashola and his advisers must ensure that the government does not impinge on citizens’ rights. Also, the government should be mindful of the unintended consequences of its policies and actions.

In my opinion, I do not think it is right for any government be it local, state or federal to compel a landlord to re-paint his/her property. One may argue that if a property yields a monthly-rent, then is only right that the property owner keeps it maintained. And I will agree with such argument because if I’m a tenant, I will expect that my landlord to keep my rental accommodation aesthetically pleasing. Especially in a place like Lagos, where some landlords demand two years advance rent payment. However, what about owner-occupiers? Has the government considered the impact of such directive on owner occupiers who cannot afford to re-paint their houses? It is not unreasonable to assume that deplorable state of the nation’s economy would have played its part in the neglect of certain properties. Has anyone seen a property owner, who will deliberately allow his property to go derelict? Who does not want his house to look nice?

So what I’m saying? The government needs to reconsider its position on this matter. A blanket rule compelling all property owners to re-paint their houses is surely not the right thing to do. Individual property owner’s circumstances are different, and therefore the government should deal with the issue on “case by case” basis. In a civilised society, Government provides grants/loans for such purposes. And such loans/grants are “means-tested”, i.e. only made available to those who cannot afford the cost of the refurbishment. Why can’t the Lagos State Government do the same? In fact, the Lagos Mega City Project provides a justification for such a scheme.

Also, I find the threat to “seize” properties of defaulters laughable. Mr Muiz Banire, was quick to quote Land Use Act, saying that the government will invoke Section 28 of Land Use Act to deal with erring landlords. But having read the Land Use Act, I’m yet to find where it is written that a Governor may revoke a right of occupancy because a property owner refused to maintain the aesthetics of his/her property to a certain standard. This could only happen if maintenance of aesthetic standard is included is imposed on the land through a “covenant”. And thus, failure to re-paint would be regarded as a “breach” of covenant. Even in cases where such covenants are imposed, how do you define aesthetic standard? Interpretation of what acceptable standards will be very subjective. And as they say, “beauty is in eye of the beholder”. What I consider as pleasant may be an eyesore to someone else.

Whilst I appreciate Gov. Fashola’s enthusiasm to bring sanity back to Lagos, some of his recent actions have been questionable. Government actions should not place unnecessary hardship on the citizenry. The fact is, we operate an unregulated property industry, which means the additional cost of any forced refurbishment will only be passed on tenants.

1 comment:

Otebolaku said...

Lagos state govt is doing great. What I will suggest is that any defaulter should be given opportunity to explain why they default. Nigerian property owners Lagos in particular are the most wicked in the world. In a sane world, I have never seen where landlords demand for 2 or 3 years advance payment for rent. This is why many people end up leaving under bridges and slums because they cannot cough out such fortunes for rent. Also, these greedy property owners do not take good care and maintenance of the properties and leave them as eye sores on major streets. Why in other country, it is a culture to carry out major maintenance on properties on yearly basis but in Nigeria, until the building collapses and kills the occupants.
Great work Lagos Govt!