Unlike in Florida and many other states in America, our Landlord and Tenants Laws do not give the landlord the power to seize and retain the property of the tenant as lien when the tenant is in default of payment of rent. Similarly, when a tenant leaves some of his property in the landlord’s premises after he or she has been evicted or after he or she has surrendered or abandoned the property, the landlord under the Nigerian Tenancy Laws has no power to seize or convert the property to his own. Where a landlord seizes his tenant’s property for failure to pay rent, the landlord may be liable to the tenant in trespass to chattel or conversion.
Even in Florida where the law provides for landlord’s lien, the landlord has no automatic right to possess the property or withhold the property from the tenant. The law also does not allow the landlord to retain, hold, use, sell or discard a tenant’s personal property. If for any reason the landlord becomes seised of the tenant’s property and the tenant requests for the property, the landlord is under an obligation to return the property to the tenant. Where the landlord refuses or neglects to return such property to the tenant, he may be liable in conversion to the tenant. Thus a landlord who wants to exercise his power of lien over a tenant’s property must institute an action in court for foreclosure against such tenant.
Though our laws do not give the landlord right of lien over the personal property of the tenant, a landlord can nevertheless acquire a right of lien over his tenant’s personal property through a consensus arrangement. This can be achieved where the landlord enters into an agreement with the tenant that he (the landlord) should retain possession of the personal property of the tenant in the event that the tenant is in arrears of rent when he (the tenant) is leaving the premises. This kind of arrangement should be included in the Tenancy or Lease Agreement. The Tenancy Agreement should describe the tenant’s property (equipment, furniture, etc) and provide that the tenant grants security interest in his property in favour of the landlord to secure the tenant’s obligation under the Tenancy Agreement. This agreement gives the landlord the right of a secured creditor in the tenant’s property when the tenant defaults.
Unless this type of arrangement exists between the landlord and his tenant, the right to reenter the premises in Nigeria following surrender, abandonment or eviction does not give a landlord any legal title to any personal property of the tenant.
Source: The lawyers for the poor.