For this week’s episode of Navigating Nigeria, we spoke to Mark*, an IT and networking specialist who is dealing with a huge electricity bill after being swindled by his landlord.

In the wild adventure that is house-hunting in Nigeria, there are chances that an unsuspecting tenant can be tricked into getting a house with heavy electricity arrears among other issues. This is Mark’s experience about the pains of estimated billing and the dishonesty of some landlords. 

Walk us through your experience getting an apartment in Lagos

I started house-hunting in early 2020, just as we were entering the lockdown proper. Lagos being what it is, has a high demand for residential buildings. It wasn’t easy at all. The process of jumping from one agent to another was so annoying. You’d have to pay an agent fee for anyone you came in touch with. And you’d still have to pay their transport fares.

There are multiple agents for one property and when you call them, they’ll tell you agent fee is ₦5000. I found a way to negotiate it down to ₦2000 although this also depended on the nature of the apartment. Several agents took me around. I couldn’t find anyone to my taste because it felt like all the places I was taken to were shacks. And the landlords really don’t send you because they know that if you don’t take it, someone else will.

I was just walking on my own one day and was fortunate enough to see this bricklayer working in front of a building still under construction. I stopped to ask if he could give me the contact details of the house owner or the agent in charge. He told me all the apartments in the building were already taken, even though it was still under construction. Imagine the extent people go to secure houses in Lagos.


Anyway, he told me there was an available place somewhere he had finished working on, somewhere around the Palmgrove-Shomolu axis. Lucky me! When I got to the location I found the only available room left there — it was a one room self-con with a bathroom and kitchen and it looked quite spacious. I didn’t waste time, I took it. I paid ₦300,000 for the rent. Agent fee, agreement and damages took ₦50,000 each, so in total I paid ₦450,000. Service charge came down to ₦5,000 a month.

The next week, I moved in. This was in June 2020. The building had 14 flats of different sizes in it. Before paying the rent I confirmed with the landlord about any outstanding bills —  Electricity, water, service charges and all. He promised that we would be getting a prepaid meter and made me feel at ease and I believed I was getting a very good deal.

So, I settled in my place. The first three months were smooth. We were paying our electricity bills at ₦2000 per occupant which seemed fair enough even though I didn’t have appliances at the time. In the fourth month I started noticing some hidden charges in the light bill. Electricity distribution officials would come around to harass us. They’d tell us we had some things to pay. From ₦2000 it went to ₦3000, then ₦5000, then ₦7000. When it got to ₦7000, I knew there was a problem as it wasn’t normal anymore. The bills we started getting were outrageous, the type that printing presses or industrial companies accumulate.

Our light bill as a whole moved from around ₦100,000 to ₦200,000 per month. Don’t forget that the landlord had promised that I’d get a prepaid meter. He didn’t fulfill that promise and so the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC) was charging us based on estimated billing. If we were only billed based on three meters — which was what the house had at the time — it would have at least been bearable. 

We later found out that the landlord had opened extra accounts with IKEDC for the prepaid meters that were yet to arrive. So we were receiving estimated billings for the yet to be installed meters. They opened 10 accounts like that for that building.


To make matters worse, I found out that the house had accumulated a power bill of ₦3 million before I even became a tenant. At first, we thought it was a joke because the landlord said he had cleared every debt. He swore to God and everything, asking us to confirm from outsiders. We tried everything, including going to IKEDC’s office to confirm the authenticity of our landlord’s claims. The IKEDC officials showed us the account and we saw the bill for ourselves. An outstanding bill of ₦3 million was passed down to us.

This three million was aside the prepaid meter accounts that were opened for us. So while we were even thinking of how to resolve that debt, another was piling. Every month, we were receiving estimated billings for these prepaid accounts. Some months we’d receive bills as high as ₦700,000.


See ehn

. We were in a bad place because who doesn’t want light? And no matter what, you cannot shoulder all that debt on yourself with your salary. How much will you have left at the end of the month? 

We had several engagements with the landlord and asked him to at least try to clear his own end of the outstanding bill. Among the tenants we agreed to pay ₦60,000 each to at least offset some of the bills because IKEDC’s harassment was unbearable. Almost every day you’d see them coming to disconnect us. Imagine the pain of coming back from work, every other person has light and it’s just you living in darkness.

Even after we convinced the landlord to clear his own debt, we had a new problem. The uninstalled prepaid meters had accumulated a bill of ₦3 million — this was separate from the ₦3 million the landlord was owing. It was a real terror for me. The estimated billing was pure extortion by IKEDC. No matter how much electricity was used, there’s just no way we were consuming that much.

Eventually, the landlord met with his lawyer who advised him to put the house up for sale. By early December 2021, we received an eviction notice. Despite the eviction notice, we were still paying bills through our nose.

Towards the end of December, the landlord came with a surprise announcement. He had had a rethink and would no longer sell the house.


But there was a catch. The landlord informed us that at the end of the year, we would be treated as fresh tenants. This meant we were to pay agreement, commission and all those fees again. And he doubled it. What we were paying as ₦50,000 had become ₦100,000. He also increased rent, some apartments increased by ₦100,000 while some increased by ₦200,000.

The audacity. Did you explore any other options on your own? 

Yeah. We tried to engage an insider who worked with IKEDC to confirm if there was a scam going on with the billing. But then, they all work for the same people and even if there was, there was no incentive for him to get to the bottom of it. 

We also tried to engage a lawyer. But I noticed that not all the tenants were into that and some were nonchalant about it. Me taking it all upon myself would have been an exercise in futility.

I had no choice and as much as I hated to cough up those fees, the place had some features that I liked. It was just unfair to be given an eviction notice for no reason and then to have my rent increased unjustly. 

What happened to the laws on giving quit notice and not increasing rent until after three years? There are many unanswered questions and I know that even though my story might be different from others, there are some similarities that you will find that Lagos tenants face at the hands of their landlords.

Even though it was difficult for me, I just had to pay. I considered the stress of looking for a new apartment, moving, repainting and so on. There was also the fact that most places wouldn’t be as spacious as where I am. Also, if I was getting a new place I’d still have to pay those commissions and other charges. My plan was that if I had to move, it would be to a bigger accommodation and at the time I didn’t have the funds for that.

What is the situation for you like now?

Not every tenant renewed their rent. Some were aggrieved and felt cheated. For those of us that stayed, we finally received our prepaid meters. Ideally, IKEDC will need you to pay a certain amount before giving you a prepaid meter. What they  did was to sum up the debt and split it equally across those meters.

Whether you’re a new or old tenant, you have an outstanding bill waiting for you if you agree to stay in that building. So every month I pay two light bills, one to offset an outstanding charge and another to pay for the power I plan to use for that month. And I cannot skip these payments or else I won’t be able to load up my prepaid meter. The last time I checked, the outstanding bill on my meter was ₦400,000.

Sigh. What advice would you give to people looking for accommodation in Lagos?

First, you should do due diligence on any apartment you plan to move to. When agents are showing you a house, just note the address. Take it to an electricity distribution office to confirm if there are any outstanding bills for that address. 

This is important because these are things the landlord won’t tell you. Even if they tell you the house has prepaid meters, don’t fall for it because even those have hidden bills. In your excitement about getting a prepaid meter, you may not be aware that there are bills you’d end up servicing.

 *Name changed to protect their identity.



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