Are you thinking of renting an apartment in Lagos? Please come with me for an idea of the rough journey that awaits you. I recently decided to get an apartment in Lagos in order to beat the cost of shuttling between Ota and Lagos on reportorial assignments.
Really, it’s depressing when you daily encounter traffic jams that have no fixed end-points, such that you arrive for every event just when it is about to end or has just ended. You sit idly on the bus as it inches along with very little progress towards your destination and the event you are to cover. Time and event do not understand that you are stuck in logjam traffic resulting from the poor road network of Lagos and too many vehicles on streets. The roads are narrow and mostly dilapidated. Aside from the main problem of poor roads that deny vehicles easy passage, the situation is worsened by by men of the National Union of Road Transport Workers and sundry miscreants collecting illegal fees from transporters on behalf of strange persons, depending on the time of the day, at each bus stop: ”owo Bukky,” “owo Shola,” ”owo Segun,” ”owo Aaro,” ”owo osan,” ”owo irole,” ”owo Oru,” etc. They also harass commuters for money. The boys at bus stops will do anything to delay bus driver who do not cooperate by paying the amount demanded promptly. They would yank off a windscreen wiper or the side mirror if the driver tries to speed off without paying the levy.
Another cause of delay is the annoying practice of drivers who veer into already crowded petrol stations just to buy a litre or two of fuel meant to last one journey.
They seem always sure that one or two litters would be enough for a trip, which may be true, but unanticipated delays in traffic lead to their pullingg up for another litre or two before the end of the trip, causing further delays to their passengers. If that makes you hiss, then think about the scorching heat and the offensive odors in the buses. Sometimes, it is as though we commute with decaying bodies.
If you decide not to ride a Lagos bus or other public transport contraptions like cabs, you must still worry about the event you are to cover as the clock ticks. If vehicles can wait take their time in traffic, not so the event. I have considered biking at an additional 150-200 percent costs over staying put on a bus and feeling frustrated in a traffic gridlock. Certain distances covered by bus at N50 cost N150 to N200 by bike, depending on location.
Biking also has its own hurdles and clear dangers. Apart from the difficulties f navigating every street and crowded bus stop in Lagos, a bike provides no protection from rain and other weather conditions. And one must also be very careful and ready to ply Spartacus or Superman when the biker misses his track and an accident occurs. On two occasions, I was able to avoid crashing by jumping off the bike just before the accident, but I tell you it wasn’t easy achieving that
Well, I had decided to relocate to the center of attraction, Lagos. After 25 years, I was done with Ota. Even Ramota who back then in our college days, we jokinngly said would grow old and rust in Ota by virtue of her name which, literally, means ”dissolving in Otta,” had since left for Port Harcourt. So, what reason had I for remaining in Ota?
I delved into the search for a Lagos apartment. I contacted all of my close pals, commissioning them to look out for any vacancy in the city of Lagos. One of them, Wahed, warned me that Ikeja, Surulere and of the old residential areas are very expensive, but I did not listen to him. In any case, none of my friends knew of any vacancy in those areas, but they knew of every vacant room at Iyana-Ipaja, Abule-Egba,
Ahmadiya and all the partly-Lagos and partly-Ogun parts of the greater Lagosmetropolis. [I understand it is because house rents are affordable there.] A friend, Jamiu, who works in Oshodi, never bothered to inquire about vacancies or current rent rates around there, yet he knew of every room in the suburbs about to be vacant the next day and those whose tenants owed rent and were about to receive quit notices or be ejected. Jamiu hinted me about a vacant room in Iyana-Ipaja at N2, 500 monthly rent with one year’s rent in advance. The total cost of renting it, including agreement and estate agent commission, was N49, 000 – but my desire to live in central or inner Lagos prevented me from considering it. That put paid to any help from my friends, so I undertook the house hunting in person. What follows is an account of my experiences as a first-time apartment hunter.
The first and easiest thing, I discovered, is finding House agents. Perhaps the most available informal job in Lagos is being a house rent agent. Ask even a bus conductor; if he is not an agent himself, a relative his is. It seems every family in Lagos has at least one person who is either an agent or has a friend that is one, fake or genuine!
I went straight to Yaba and before I had asked two people, I was already speaking to an agent. Wasiu, whom I only asked where I could find an agent, wanted to know what type of house I wanted and my preferred location. He wore a pair of faded khaki trousers and a shirt of a color somewhere between white and ash or butter; it was hard to tell, due to overuse. He spoke a little Pidgin English, but mostly Yoruba.
Wasiu knew of no vacant place I liked so he took me around Jibowu, the WAEC area of Yaba, Morocco, Akoka, Bariga, Ladi-lak and Ilaje. I was already spending a good amount of money on transport just to see his fellow agents. Each of them asked me to obtain a form at N3, 000 or N2, 500 before taking me to see any vacant apartment. Wasiu had made the same demand, which I declined because I wasn’t convinced that he was genuine. He had no office and his co-agents who had only wooden cubicles for offices used their friends’ trading stalls for contact. N3,000 wasn’t a huge amount of money compared to the cost of transporting myself on bikes all day long. But which of the legion of hungry-looking and sweet-tongued agents did I think worth sticking with? That was my first challenge.
We ran into one Tunde, a young Yoruba man close to his forties.
He operated a video club that did very little business and used same as his agency office. At the time we arrived at his office, he appeared to be in serious conversation with some elderly persons. However, in just two minutes of my encounter with him after his visitors had left, I learned that he a drunk and a once married polygamous man and now a bachelor. I had no problem with boozy people or womanizers as long as they don’t shirk their responsibilities. I told him what I wanted, that I would not fill his form and would not pay any money, but that if he had apartments available for rent, I would pay any fare for inspection visits. I added that he would still get more than N3, 000 as an appreciation gift, more than the application fee. I dislike filling forms and even more giving personal information to strange fellows. Even though I’m not rich by any means, I know the risk of leaving one’s personal information with people one does not know.
I gave Wasiu some transport money and promised to ”see” him after he had found me an apartment. I could not be paying the fare for all three of us every time we went inspecting a house when his friend had no reason to go with us. He had no vacant apartment me, after all, but Tunde had a few we could take a look at.
My expedition with Tunde
After I had told Tunde what I wanted, he asked for call cards to speak with some landlords and landladies so he’d be sure they had vacant rooms before went on inspection visits. I handed him N300 and after only one unsuccessful call, he began to call his girlfriends. At first, I kept quiet on the assumption that he may have been using his own cards but about five minutes after, he had used up the credit and was asking me for more phone cards. I laughed! How did he expect me to give him more money when he had not used the one I had given judiciously? He wasn’t even making any effort to hide wasteful spending from me. After he had tried with no success to get more money from me, he devised new ideas. I did not budge: I would not give him another penny until he had shown me at least one or two apartments.
Tunde asked if I would pay for transport to see some vacant rooms he had suddenly remembered. I knew it was just one more effort to to get me spend some more money, but I decided to play along since we might just happen on an apartment in the process. After we had seen an apartment in house that was the exact opposite of what I had told him I wanted, and which he knew I would not like, Tunde remembered another one. He assured me I would like it. Then he called another client to tell him about the apartment we had just seen, asking him to come over to his office. I realized then then that he had tricked me into transporting him to see the place for himself, knowing I would not like it the old, clayey-looking house. I frowned as he manipulated another client over the phone into bringing him money for an inspection visit to the same house he had now inspected at my expense.
After Tunde had concluded his deal with the new client, he returned his attention to me.
“I have a place and I know that it is exactly what you want,” he said to me.” I brought you here and I see you don’t like it. When I take you to this other, you will not know it is not all that easy to find a house, but let me just favor you and make it easy for you,” he added, just to brighten me up.
I forgave him immediately. After all, it’s one of the well-known hassles of apartment hunting in Lagos and everyone knows that It is never over until it is over. “But”, Tunde continued, “I’m famished and have to eat first to regain some energy”. He seemed to have forgotten I watched him eat his last meal and drink a bottle of beer in his office. I told him I would wait around for him to find a restaurant. That was when he was forced to declare his real intention by saing, ., “Na you go pay for my food na. No be you I dey help find house?” In spite of myself, I took some pity on him, though it was now clear to me that I was dealing with real rotten character.
I braced up and paid for his food and drink. He did not care that I had not taken a sip myself all through the excursion. I understood his attitude; he must have said to himself, “This guy that owns a blackberry and carries around a Laptop on which he typed whenever we stopped to rest must be an O.B.O, Omo Baba Olowo .
But the day ended without success and Tunde promised he would find a house for me the next day. Although I began to distrust him at that point, I still retained some hope that he might just, by sheer chance, be useful to me in my search. That night, I combed the streets of Akoka and Yaba, hoping to find a landlord I could deal with directly so I could save myself the hassle of going through so-called agents, just as an uncle had advised me, but I did not find any. All the signs of room, 2 or 3 bedroom flats, self-contained or shops to let had been placed by agents. I called one and he told me to come with my N5,000 application fee the next day. I immediately deleted his number from my phone.
Just as I was thinking of taking a well-deserved rest from the daylong trudging, Tunde beeped me. I called him and he announced that he had learned of an available apartment but he needed a phone card and transport fare so he could call and then go see the Landlord. “Send me card now, now,” he said with extreme urgency. I hissed and hung up. Give more money to an irresponsible fellow like Tunde? But then I thought, what if, his rigmaroles aside; he has found what I’m looking for? I dashed out, unmindful of the late hour, to buy phone cards. I bought enough cards to for all the calls he would need to make and to take care of his transport so he would have no excuse when I saw him the next day. All I wanted was for the crazy search to end so I could give my attention to other useful things.
The next day, I allowed ample time for Tunde to go through the chores of concluding the search and discussing the terms. I got to his “office “by noon but curiously, he asked me to wait. I understood right then that he had not found any vacant apartment as he promised the previous night when he asked me for phone cards. “He must be doing the same thing to others as well”, I thought. “His estate agent business was a scam.”
While I waited, Tunde made several calls, but he talked mostly to one Bunmi. The lady would beep him and he would call back, asking her down to his office. While this went on, he didn’t seem to be aware of my presence about fifteen minutes later, a cream-toned woman of reddening hue arrived on a bike. She wore a singlet top and Celestial Church cap. She beckoned Tunde over to pay the biker. I knew I was witnessing the first episode of a new soap opera at Tunde’s shop and sat to watch. They both headed to the left side of the street, Tunde signaling to me to wait. He noticed that I was frowning and smiled, as if to calm me down. I did not oblige him. And it was at that point I understood that finding me an apartment was hardly Tunde’s primary concern. I decided to go inside his video-club cubicle to make use of the time. I shut the door halfway,made some calls and opened my laptop to do some work, pending Tunde’s return.
Tunde came back about thirty minutes later. He looked exhausted. He sat next to me and could seem to stp smiling, but again I did not change my countenance. I could tell from the way he looked that he must have must have been really at it with his woman Bunmi. After a while, he managed to stand up, called a bike and said we should go on the inspection visit. I asked him where we were headed, but he couldn’t talk much; didn’t have the strength for it I paid the biker who followed Tunde’s sometimes spoken and sometimes pointed directions. We stopped in front of a storey building and right away I did not like it. Apart from the strong smell that came from the dirty street, the area was full of miscreants who smoked cigarettes under the scorching sun. The structure itself looked like it would collapse any moment. Seeing the look of disappointment and rising anger on my face, Tunde said, “I know I have taken your time. I’ll take you several places today and make sure you find one you like. Can you afford N6, 000 per month for two years?” I thought for a while, noting that for the first time, he mentioned a figure that was commensurate with the prevailing rental rates in Lagos. If N6, 000 per month for two years was what would fetch me what I wanted, that was better than an endless search, I conceded. I indicated to Tunde that I could afford the amount. And now, Tunde looked serious and ready for me. He signalled to street yogurt vendor on a bicycle, bought one and told the vendor to collect payment from me. I paid for the yogurt; I felt I had to humour him if I was to get anywhere with him. I even lethim him collect the change. And soon we were taking too another bike to yet another ancient house. I went berserk.
Two Gentlemen (Agents) to the Rescue
We returned to Tunde’s office and soon two men came in a car. They stared intermittently at me as they talked with Tunde who stood by their car outside the shop. I noticed they didn’t appear to be comfortable as Tunde asked them for help. A shot while after, they called addressed me.
They asked me for my name and I told them. Then they told me that they were estate agents and that they would help me. At which point Tunde did all he could to prevent me from talking to them; he kept trying to dominate the conversation. The agents could tell from the harried look on face that Tunde had duped me.
At last, one of them managed to get in a word above Tunde’s non-stop chatter.
“Would you like us take you to see some nice houses now so you can stop giving your money away to this man?” he said. I understood the men to be honest persons. It seemed they knew Tunde to be either fraud or just a time waster. I had nothing to lose so I decided to try them out. They told me their terms: I would fuel their car with N500 worth of petrol and they would take me to see five houses. They assured me I would be pleased with at least one. It seemed to me a more credible proposition than anything Tunde had come up with. After all, they weren’t asking me to fill an useless form, nor to buy them food or yogurt, nor phone credit cards. Moreover, it was cheaper to go to five different locations for N500 than spending about N1, 250 on bikes only to see two old houses and return to Tunde’s office to buy him food. Tunde pinched me, signaling that I should decline the offer, but I couldn’t stop thinking that they seemed more reliable. I chose to go with them. Then the gentlemen asked Tunde, “How many decent houses do you have access to?”
Tunde quivered but could not name even one. It became clear he was nothing but a quack and a fraudster. I decided that I would have nothing more to do with him.
Aware that he was about to lose me, Tunde called aside and asked that I give him the N500. He would coordinate the use of the money, he said. I knew it was his last gambit to get any more money from me in the light of the new development. I was eager to get going with the new agents, please them even, so I gave him the money. Then he approached the gentlemen and harangued them into accepting N300. And then he immediately bought a N200 phone card to make a call.
[Whether they would accept it or not, my concern was that we would go to see the houses they had promised without any further delay. But those gentlemen had seen me hand the N500 to Tunde and knew his ploy. They refused N300 and after a brief argument, they drove off. So I had lost N500,more money, without being closer to finding an apartment. I turned on Tunde but he did the best he could to calm me down me.
The next day was a Saturday and after writing a report due at work in the morning,
I headed again to Tunde’s office to continue my search. After about twenty minutes of waiting in Tunde’s shop, I saw the gentlemen of the day before drive pass. They too noticed me and and came to ask me about the progress so far. One of them who gace his name as Ola asked if I could provide N500 to fuel his car. I said I could. After all, the N500 I gave to Tunde the previous day was gone without any result. Tunde caught us in the middle of the discussion and saw now that he could no longer prevent me from going with those men. He joined us in the car and thus began a serious search. I was impressed by the gentlemen’s approach.
Ola had immediately begun to make calls to find out areas where there might be vacancies. He had not asked me for phone card c but I decided that I would reimburse him.
A mad rush for house rent in Lagos
That day, we visited three different places but the first two houses we saw had just been taken. I liked the third one, a two-storey building close to Ilaje bus stop and owned by a professor. The minimum rent demanded by the landlord was three years with the final amount including fees coming up to N260, 000. I promised to come with the payment the next day. I quickly contacted my uncle to announce the news and hint at the urgent need for me to pay the rent so I could secure the apartment. He swiftly wired the money to me, yet by the next morning, someone had already paid for the apartment. Apparently, that person had paid the rent as soon as we left the professor’s house the previous night. It was then I developed the idea of carrying the cash for rent with me. I wouldn’t let the agents know that I carried the money with me everywhere. Our search continued. We visited three other places and it was same story: “Sorry, someone just paid for it.” Late in the evening, we found another one, tucked inside the Ladi-lak area of Lagos. The caretaker informed us the total rent and fee package would be N200, 000. The apartment had a separate kitchen and toilet and offered a glimmer of hope. But it was also a very small room that would not accommodate anything bigger than a single bed mattress. The separate toilet and kitchen were the compensations for the cubicle-size room. I wasn’t planning to cook anyway. The dearth of houses around my area of choice made me think of managing do with this apartment. “After all, I would be the only tenant,” I said to myself. And then something dramatic happened. Two agents had given us the information about the apartment; then there were the two agents, the gentlemen, who took me along with Tunde to inspect it. As it happened, the caretaker claimed to be the agent in charge of the house. So there were now six agents for the one-room apartment demanding to be “settled.”
Ola called me to one side and advised me to begin a serious downward pricing of the rent with the hope that the caretaker/agent would reduce the rent by about N20,000 and thereby make room for his commission. ”Tell him you are a student and can only afford N180, 000,” Ola suggested. I became afraid that the only deal we had come close to making since I began my search for an apartment was about to fall through. I did not have much of a choice, so I agreed. All of the other agents began to press the caretaker to prevail on the landlord to accept N180, 000. He
collected the money, issued me receipt but said that the deal had not been finalized.
The following morning, the caretaker refunded me my money on arrival. A higher bidder had gone to the landlord with the N200,000 soon after we left. Even late in the night, desperate Lagosians took cash to landlords. It amazed me just how much people scramble for vacant cubicles in Lagos,
A scramble worsened by the addition of a few more thousands to the army of “homeless” Lagosians with the demolition of the Makoko Waterfront slum.
Tenant Criteria, other limitations
When I resumed my search we found several vacant rooms but stringent terms of some of the landlords dimmed my chances. In one place, the landlady said she wanted a Muslim. At a few places, I was told that they wanted a Yoruba, even though I am a Yoruba who happens to look like Igbo. At yet some other places, they wanted only a married person because they believed that a married tenant’s wife would tidy up the premises. I had no problem with tidying up myself, but they just wanted a married person. I remember overhearing the tenants in one house
Saying, ”This guy won’t comply with our sweeping roster.” Others insinuated that I am a yahoo boy and may not be responsible. All sorts of reasons.
The only houses where I did not encounter such hassles were squalid structures reeking of the stench from broken sewage pipes or pits. The better structures with clean premises were not only expensive; their landlords also demanded more than one year minimum rent in flagrant violation of the recently enacted Lagos State tenancy law. Only landlords and landladies in the outskirts of Lagos, like Iyana-Ipaja, obeyed the law and accepted a minimum of one year’s rent.
Some landlords/ladies not only demanded three years’s rent at once but also went ahead to insist other conditions, like marital status, gender, religion or ethnic background.
At a point during our continued search, N500 was no longer enough to for fuel . And soon, I was paying N1, 500 for fuel what is more, even offering to buy them food whenever I was hungry.
At last, however, we found an apartment. A big room, the landlord demanding a minimum of two years’ rent. The total package came down to N232, 000 after settling the long chain of agents. As soon as I had paid, another agent came with a prospective tenant, further confirming the mad scramble for accommodation in Lagos.
And after finally finding a suitable apartment, I know now that it is one thing to secure accommodation and quite another to furnish it. A new phase of spending has just begun: painting, curtains, the door and some work on the ceiling, carpets, furniture, house wiring, mattress, a television, a ceiling fan to cool off the crazy Lagos heat, a generator together with an inverter and more.
Honestly, nobody will really miss me in Ogun State because I lived a reclusive life and was too busy to make friends. But in my new place, my landlady’s twenty-year-old daughter seems to like me. Ehn? Whatever!
I’m now willing to make friends. Are you available?
Follow me on twitter: @segunOLaw.
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