Supreme Court decision on landlord’s quit notice on a tenant, By Dele Awokoya

By Dele Awokoya

The recent decision of the Supreme Court has given a relief to the landlords who have been suffering on the hands of stubborn tenants. It is common place to see tenants dragging on the validity of quit notice and refusal to quit within time given in the quit notice. Some tenants even go as far as refusing to pay rent during the period of the quit notice. Some pay and the landlord collects and they conclude that the quit notice has been abandoned by receiving the arrears of rent.  

In the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of PILLARS NIGERIA LIMITED V. WILLIAM KOJO DESBORDES delivered on  Friday, the 5th day of February, 2021, the court held that the fact that a landlord collected rent on a property still in occupation or possession of the tenant after notice to quit, cannot by any stretch of the law, equity or imagination amount to a waiver of the notice to quit even where the notice had expired, and the tenant refused to yield possession in time. The notice to quit would subsist until it is formally rescinded by the landlord, or when a fresh tenancy agreement is entered into.

The court further held “Equity demands that wherever and whenever there is controversy on when or how notice of forfeiture or notice to quit is disputed by the parties, or even where there is irregularity in giving notice to quit, the filing of an action by the landlord to regain possession of the property has to be sufficient notice on the tenant that he is required to yield up possession”, 

“The fact that a landlord collected rent on a property still in occupation or possession of the tenant after notice to quit, cannot by any stretch of the law, equity or imagination amount to a waiver of the notice to quit, even where the notice had expired, and the tenant refused to yield possession in time. The notice to quit would subsist until it is formally rescinded by the landlord, or when a fresh tenancy agreement is entered into.

Even if the initial notice to quit was irregular, the minute the Writ of Summons dated 13/5/1993 for repossession was served on the Appellant, it served as adequate notice. Equity demands that wherever and whenever there is controversy on when or how notice of forfeiture or notice to quit is disputed by the parties, or even where there is irregularity in giving notice to quit, the filing of an action by the landlord to regain possession of the property has to be sufficient notice on the tenant, that he is required to yield up possession”

Their Lordships clarified that, 

“While statutory notice may be given as the situation requires (whatever form the periodic tenancy is, whether weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly etc.), immediately a Writ is filed to regain possession, the irregularity of the Notice, if any, is cured. Time to give notice, should start to run from the date the Writ is served. If for example, a yearly tenant, six months after the Writ is served and so on. All the dance drama around the issue of the irregularity of the Notice, ends thereby”

By the decision of the Supreme Court, tenants will not be frustrating the landlords with issue of irregular quit notice and payment of arrears of rent as a right to continue the tenancy.

Mr Awokoya, a legal practitioner is based in Lagos.