Citizen is a column that explains how the government’s policies fucks citizens and how we can unfuck ourselves.
If renting a space is hell for the average Nigerian, it is even worse for Nigerian women who aren’t partnered or have immediate ties with a man. From women having to use their brothers or fathers as guarantors to being outrightly denied the opportunity to rent a space for reasons that begin and end with misogyny, sexism, and the extremely high moral standards lumped on women in Nigeria.
Cybel Peter, the Property Lawyer we spoke with believes that without any law in place that outrightly terms this discrimination as illegal, house owners are free to rent at their discretion “Discriminating against women in any form or way is not legal. But to the best of my knowledge, they are no laws made available yet to curb against landlords refusing to rent their properties in Nigeria.” She says. “The legislators haven’t considered this to be a problem, and also matters like this happen on a very low scale. Even though we know some landlords can be sexist, it’s still up to them to choose who stays on their property, I have seen some situations where the landlord only wants female tenants, because they think women are less troublesome, so what happens then? There are so many funny rules placed by some landlords on their property. But [at the end of the day] it’s their property and their money”
Below, six Nigerian women share their experiences trying to rent a space in Nigeria and how this age-long discrimination based on gender continues to work against them.
In June last year, I was house hunting around Ogun state for my NYSC. It was around the rural side of Ogun state so the houses are owned by old landlords. This landlord asked whether I’d be living alone? I said yes. He said he doesn’t rent his house to single women because they tend to invite different types of men to the house and he doesn’t want that. I mean single men do this too but I guess it’s not a problem for him. Even though I told him I was only staying for a year for my NYSC and not for a long time I still had to bring in my dad to sign as my guarantor before he rented the apartment out to me. That’s so misogynistic of the man but I guess that’s what being a single woman in Nigeria can do to you.
When I moved to Imo state in 2019, I saw hell and heaven just because I was looking for a place to live. Landowners were always concerned that I was unmarried and they would often refuse to rent to me because of that. I had to stay in a room without a kitchen where I was sharing a toilet with almost five persons all because I was single. Last year, I was able to finally get a proper apartment that I like only because I involved a male colleague of mine who had to act as my boyfriend. This experience is so outdated because I can’t see how I will have the money to pay for what I want but can’t get it just because I’m single. I really hope people change this mentality because it’s exhausting. The funny thing is that the house owner lives abroad and doesn’t care about my single status but the caretaker made it an issue. The caretaker never gave me hope that I will get the house until this male colleague came into the picture. Now, he – the caretaker – knows the guy is not my boyfriend but can’t do anything about it because he says I’m one of his best tenants.
I’ve had a handful of experiences because I move a lot. My parents almost always have to be very present throughout the process. Even at that I’ve experienced push back when the landlord or agent realises I will be moving in without them. The experience that sticks out the most for me was the first time I was house hunting by myself in Abuja. I found a place I really liked and informed the agent I wanted to close on the house immediately. I filled the necessary forms and did an interview with the facility manager. I was waiting to receive payment details but they were always posting me. After a lot of pressure from me, the agent finally told me the Landlord has refused to rent to a woman because he didn’t want prostitutes in his property. Landlords will rent houses to Yahoo boys no questions asked but start doing 21 questions when a woman wants to rent and it’s very upsetting. In my current living situation, they had to reassure the owner I’m not a prostitute and send pictures to prove I’m responsible. I don’t even know what that means.
So I live in my family house in Banana Island. I came from the U.K. to Lagos in February last year. I came with my son. Neither one of us has ever lived in Nigeria but I was ready to live on my own. So I started looking. The first issue was some agents wouldn’t even take me for viewings in ‘affluent’ areas once I said I was single. I got about 16 rejections, it was so upsetting. Then one day I saw a lovely place in Lekki phase 1 that was exactly what I was looking for in a house. I was given the offer letter and I made the payment which was in millions. I was even ready to pay half of the second year then I get a call asking me for another year’s rent to be paid immediately or we can’t go ahead. I was like huh? I can’t afford that. Where am I to get that kind of money from in less than 24hrs. Anyway, the agent called me and explained what had happened. Apparently, the landlord didn’t know anything about me until they sent the contract to him and he realised I wasn’t married. He was ‘concerned’ that I wouldn’t keep up with payments and that I would ‘wreck the property with sex parties’. Within hours and before I could even come back and say ok let me pay, they sent my money back. I was so upset. I cried. My experience here as a single mum has been horrific. So after that experience, I use either my male cousin or my cousin’s husband. So they call the agents and I go and view them as their ‘wife’. Although I think I may have just found the place I want to move to and I think they’re quite forward-thinking. They asked me if I was married and I accidentally said no and they didn’t seem bothered so fingers crossed.
I get an agent, tell him the type of house I want, my budget, and my preferred location. After a few days, he lets me know he has places for me to check out and this is where the problems begin. One time I saw a house that was great, I was ready to pay the next day but because I’m not Yoruba, the landlord gave it to someone else right in front of me while telling me they’ll get back to me. I was house hunting when the first lockdown happened. Just before the lockdown started, I’d seen a place that was okay but I had to wait for things to settle before I could see the landlord. I’d asked all the relevant questions like I’m a single woman, will that be a problem? The guy kept saying don’t worry it’s all good. After 2/3 months, I met with the landlord, and the first question he asked was “are you married?” I just shook my head because I knew this would be trouble. I answered that I wasn’t and the way he and his wife’s countenance changed was insane. He straight up told me that he doesn’t rent to single women and I asked why because the other tenants were single men and he couldn’t give an answer. It’s like the moment they hear you’re a single woman and also not Yoruba, just forget it. If you don’t get frustrated by the stupid questions or the condescending tone then the fact that they won’t even address you directly can make you lose your mind. After months of the same thing, I had to buy an engagement ring to be wearing to look at houses and that’s when they started treating me like a human being. The fact that I’m single, from the South and I have visible tattoos kept me house hunting for over a year
So basically my friend – also a woman – and I have been looking for an apartment for a while around Surulere and Yaba. When we reach out to agents when we see an apartment we like they might tell us that the landlord doesn’t rent out to single ladies or we can only rent the place if we can come with a man to prove that we’re engaged. Just to show that there’s a marriage plan on the way. When we ask them why they don’t want to rent to single ladies, their excuse is usually that single women will bring different men to their house and they don’t want to be seeing a new man and new car every night. I’m always like how is that your business though? Another reason they give is that single women will find someone they want to marry and move out, and they need someone that can stay long term, and I ask how about if I don’t want to get married? How do you know the man you rent this place to will not find somewhere better and move out? It just never makes sense to me.