Special Adviser to Governor Sanwo-olu on Housing, Mrs. Toke Benson-Awoyinka, is a brilliant lawyer and prominent stalwart of the All Progressives Congress in Lagos State. A project she had been working on for long, on how to regulate estate business in Lagos and protect tenants from shylock landlords and also protect the integrity of estate developers, brokers and marketers by eliminating quacks among them, came to fruition recently with the birth of Lagos State Real Estate Regulatory Authority. WESTERN POST‘s Correspondent, ADEOLA OGUNRINDE, sat down during the week with Mrs. Benson-Awoyinka to speak on LASRERA, the issues that led to its creation and what the agency seeks to achieve. Below is the interview…
Can you tell WESTERN POST about this new Project LASRERA?
LASRERA is an agency under the Ministry of Housing and it is called Lagos State Real Estate Regulatory Authority. The law that set up LASRERA was set up in the year 2007 under the governorship of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In 2012, Governor Babatunde Fashola made an executive order for the agency to transit into a department under the Ministry of Housing called the Lagos State Real Estate Transaction Department and it has operated for a while as a department under the Ministry of Housing. In October 2019, Governor Babajide Sanwo-olu called a meeting of all stakeholders in the housing sector to come together to see the way forward regarding fraud and unethical practices in the housing industry. There it was also decided that we should regulate that agency. One of the first things we needed to do is the registration of all practitioners, to have a compendium of them to know who is doing what, and how they are doing it in the face of unethical practices that is going on. With that, we will know who to hold responsible. In February 2020, it became a full-fledged agency and it transited into the Lagos State Real Estate Authority.
How will this new project help tenants in Lagos State, and will the establishment of LASRERA not be another cost item that will increase the tenancy rate in Lagos State?
Since we started operations of LASRERA, many of the issues that we have been facing are tenancy issues and outright purchase issues. One of the initiatives we are also looking at is that tenants should also register their tenancy with us so we can know exactly who is who and what is going on, So if we have a data of where you are and what your tenancy rate is, we are there to provide that succor for you so that whoever your landlord or your agent is, he or she complies with the Lagos tenancy law and you should have to pay yearly and given six months notice if your landlord wants to do whatever he or she wants to do with his or her property. Also, part of the things we are doing is that your agency fees should not be more than ten percent of your actual rent. Those are the issues that tenants in Lagos face, we have had complaints of tenants or home-seekers who have come here to tell us that agents or agency are asking for twenty percent for agency fees, all that are illegal fees being collected from our people. We have also had issues on people who are looking for homes and have paid agents and developers, yet have not gotten those homes. Last week we had about one hundred and forty people defrauded in Badore and the units been leased out was fifteen, a hundred and forty people paid for those housing units and are now homeless, so those are the kind of things the agency has set out to do. If you look at it, some people will say it is the pro-tenants but we want to stay in-between and make sure that everybody does what they should do under the laws of the land
What are you going to do to help tenants who have been defrauded, and to agents collecting money from one hundred and forty people for just fifteen housing units?
To me as a lawyer, it is operating by false pretense which is punishable under the law, if I tell you I have a piece of property and I am telling you that, I leased it out to you and I leased that same property to the multitude, I have committed a crime. In such situations, once we can apprehend those Landlord or unscrupulous people in our society, we go through the process of prosecution, the process is followed and we hand them over to the Lagos State Ministry of Justice where the prosecution starts. Recently, we had a property forfeited to Lagos State Government in Ajao Estate, the same thing, two hundred people who have been defrauded over one house. The court has handed over the house to the Lagos State Government and we are in the process of deposing off that property and paying the tenants back, so we have quite a number of issues. Last year, we had two hundred sixty – eight people in Alapere defrauded over a fifteen unit structure, that matter is already in court. We are supposed to be pro-the people, as government one of our primary responsibilities is to protect the lives and properties of the people, and that we intend to do critically and dearly.
What encouragement are you giving estate agents to come forward and register with you and put paid to all these issues?
Let me tell you what we are doing. As a Government, we want to know who you are and what you do. We have done a lot of advocacy, we have told our people not to deal with agents who are unknown to the laws of Lagos and when I say you are unknown to the laws of Lagos, you are not registered and not permitted to do Real Estate business in Lagos. We have done a lot of advocacy telling people before you do that transaction, ask that realtor, are you permitted to run this business in Lagos State. As a government, I am saying this, after a number of days we will go out there, anywhere we see ‘To Let’ sign, people transacting business that we do not know about them, we begin to prosecute because there is a law on the ground for that. We are going to be hard on them because the law is in place if you are an agent or a developer, register that business with Lagos State Government.
What are the conditions to be able to practice as Estate Agents in Lagos State?
We have conditions we can give people to work as an Estate Agent in Lagos State. Any individual who wants to work as an Estate Agent in Lagos State or Developer in Lagos must be a Nigerian by birth or naturalization, must be at least eighteen years of age, must have at least a limited school leaving certificate of WAEC, GCE, or NECO, must be a member of a professional body, and should show the business registration or company. This must be incorporated in Nigeria and must have an address where we can locate you.
For an Estate Agent or a Developer to register, what does it cost?
They come differently, we have housing cooperatives, we have limited liability companies, public limited liability companies, whether its Estate brokers or Estate marketers. For the public limited liability companies and the housing cooperatives, it’s one million naira yearly fee, for the limited liability company, it’s one hundred and five thousand naira yearly fee. For the developers, it’s two hundred and fifty-five thousand naira, for the Estate brokers and Marketers, its twenty-five thousand naira yearly fee.