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LANDLORD CAN BE LIABLE IN TRESPASS TO A TENANT OR LICENSEE

Dictum

Trespass, of course, is a wrong against possession of land. It is not in dispute that by virtue of his employment the plaintiff was let into possession of the premises situate at 4 Benue Road in the defendant Company’s estate at Ogunu and was paying rent to the Company. Under the contract by which he held the premises he was to quit the premises within one month of his ceasing to remain in the employ of the Company. When plaintiff’s employment was terminated on 18th August 1981, he was given notice by the Company to quit the premises by 18th September 1981. If he remained in possession after that date, he would become a trespasser. But this fact did not give the defendant company right to forcibly evict him. If it did so, it would be liable to the plaintiff in trespass. It is immaterial, in my respectful view, that he was a tenant or a licensee.

– Ogundare, JSC. Chukwumah v. SPDC (1993)

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CONDUCT OF PARTIES MAY DECIDE IF A TENANCY HAS BEEN CREATED

Isaac v. Hotel de Paris Limited (1960) 1 ALL E.R. 348, it was held that the intention of the parties and the conduct of the parties must be the deciding factor whether a tenancy has been created or the relationship was merely that of a licensor and licensee even though there was exclusive possession by the appellant and the acceptance of the amount of the rent by the respondent company.

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NATURE OF A TENANCY AT WILL

A tenancy at will, which is held by a tenant at will, generally conveys a mutual wish or intention on the part of the tenant and the landlord in the occupation of the estate. There is general understanding that the estate may be legally terminated at any time. A tenancy at will is built into the mutual understanding that both the tenant and the landlord can terminate the tenancy when any of them likes or at any time convenient to any of them. In a tenancy at will, the lessee (the tenant) is the tenant at will because the lessor (the landlord) can send him packing at any time the lessor pleases. In other words, the tenant occupies the estate at the pleasure or happiness of the landlord. This is however subject to proper notice emanating from the landlord.

A tenancy at will arises whenever a tenant with the consent of the owner occupies land as tenant (and not merely as servant or agent) on terms that either party may determine the tenancy at any time. This kind of tenancy may be created expressly (e.g. Manfield and Sons Ltd. v. Botchin (1970) 2 QB 612) or by implication, common examples are where a tenant whose lease has expired holds over with landlord’s permission without having yet paid rent on a period basis. (See Meye v. Electric Transmission Ltd. (1942) Ch. 290), where a tenant takes possession under a void lease or person is allowed to occupy a house rent free and for indefinite period and (usually) where a purchaser has been let into possession pending completion.

– Onnoghen JSC. Odutola v. Papersack (2007)

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CUSTOMARY TENANT CANNOT BE IN POSSESSION WHERE LANDLORD NOT IN POSSESSION

A customary tenant is a tenant from year to year liable under Customary Law to pay rents or tribute to the landlord for the use of the land and barred from alienating the land or disputing the title of the landlord without consent. He cannot be in possession if his landlord is out of possession as the possession he enjoys is that given by the landlord. The landlord is the
holder under the Land Use Act and the tenant does not come within the definition of holder. Where there is a holder, the tenant although an occupier, is not entitled to a customary right of occupancy.

– Obaseki, JSC. Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

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PREMISES HAVE NO DEFINITE DEFINITION FROM THE AUTHORITIES CITED

Let us first examine the meaning of the term “premises”. From the many learned legal works cited to us by appellant’s counsel Corpus Juris Secondum (supra), Jowitts Dictionary of English Law( supra) and Strouds Judicial Dictionary of English Law (supra), it appears that the term premises’ has a fluid or flexible meaning without a static connotation. It sometimes means bare land and sometimes land with buildings thereon, its meaning at any given. time would be determined according to what the parties so decide, as may be ascertained from the document executed by the parties. On the other hand, from the authorities cited by the respondents Ponsford v. H.M.S. Aerosols, Doe d. Hemming v. Willetes (supra), Cuff v. J & F Store Property Co. Ltd (supra) and Turner v. York Motors Property Ltd the term premises’ under the Recovery of Premises Law, Cap 118, Law of Lagos States, is used in the two senses of buildings with its grounds or appurtenances or simply as land without any building thereon. It may be noted that what can be distilled from the authorities of decided cases cited to us, including a welter of definitions in lexicons is that the term premises’ may connote bare land or the land with the buildings thereon, depending on what the parties intend it to connote, having regard to the circumstances of the case. In the final analysis, there is no doubt whatsoever that the meaning or the definition of the term “premises” is fraught with difficulties and whether it is intended to convey a precise or specific meaning will continue to exercise the courts because the situation in each case will unquestionably depend on the facts of the case thereof.

— Achike, JSC. Unilife v. Adeshigbin (2001) 4 NWLR (Pt.704) 609

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TENANCY IS A BILATERAL CONDUCT BETWEEN PARTIES

An act of a new tenancy is conscious and specific one which must be a subject of bilateral conduct on the part of the landlord and tenant. As a matter of law, the parties must clearly and unequivocally express their willingness to enter into the new tenancy at the termination of the old one. As a specific act emanating from the landlord and the tenant, it cannot be a subject of guess or speculation. An agreement or contract is a bilateral affair which needs the ad idem of the parties. Therefore where parties are not ad idem, the court will find as a matter of law that an agreement or contract was not duly made between the parties.

– Tobi JSC. Odutola v. Papersack (2007)

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RENT CAN BE COLLECTED DESPITE SERVICE OF NOTICE TO QUIT

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 and or when a fresh tenancy agreement is entered into.

– Ogunwumiju JSC. Pillars v. William (2021)

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