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NATURE OF TENANCY AT SUFFERANCE

Dictum

Now, a tenancy at sufferance is one in which the original grant by the landlord to the tenant has expired, usually by effluxion of time, but the tenant holds over the premises. In such a case the tenant’s right to occupation of the premises to which he had come in upon a lawful title by grant is at an end but, although he has no more title as such, he continues in possession of the land or premises without any further grant or agreement by the landlord on whom the right to the reversion resides. One necessary pre-condition of such a tenancy is that the tenant must have come upon the land or premises lawfully. Though he no longer, strictly, has an estate, the law will deem his right to possession to have continued on the same terms and conditions as the original grant till possession has been duly and properly wrested from him by the landlord or reversioner. It is a form of tenancy which, as it were, depends upon the law and not the agreement of the parties and can only be determined either by the landlord’s lawful act of forcible entry, where it is still possible, or by a proper action for ejectment after due notices as prescribed by law.

– Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC. Petroleum v. Owodunni (1991)

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THERE IS PRESUMPTION OF OWNERSHIP IN CUSTOMARY TENANT UNLESS REBUTTED

In Raphel Udeze & Ors v. Paul Chidebe & Ors (1990) 1 NWLR (Part 125) 141 at 160-161 this Court per Nnaemeka-Agu JSC stated: “It is left for me to mention that the courts below also found that although the appellants pleaded that the respondents were their customary tenants who occupy the land in dispute on payment of tribute, they failed to proved such tenancy, It is significant to note that a customary tenant is in possession of his holding during good behaviour and until it is forfeited for misbehaviour. Once it is the case that such a person is a customary tenant and therefore in possession, then like any other person in possession of land, there is a presumption of ownership in his favour. Although the presumption is rebuttable by due proof of a tenancy, the onus is in the adversary to rebut it if he can. Where, as in this case, the customary tenancy is not proved, such a pleading may turn out to be a dangerous admission of possession in the opposite party upon which the trial court may base a presumption of ownership, unless, of course, it is rebutted.”

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TENANCY-AT-WILL DETERMINED ANYTIME

Wheeler v. Mercer (1956) 3 All ER 631, Lord Simonds said at page 634: “A tenancy at will though called a tenancy is unlike any other tenancy except a tenancy at sufferance to which it is next of kin. It has been properly described as a personal relation between the landlord and his tenant; it is determined by the death of either of them or by one of a variety of acts, even by an involuntary alienation, which would not affect the subsistence of any other tenancy.”

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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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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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LAND CANNOT BE GIVEN OUT WITHOUT CUSTOMARY TENANTS CONSENT

A very important factor is that the grantor of the land, once it has been given to the grantees as customary tenants, cannot thereafter grant it or any part of it to a third party without the consent or approval of the customary tenants. The grantor is not allowed to derogate from his grant.

– T.O. Elias, CJN. Aghenghen v. Waghoreghor (1974)

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MESNE PROFITS & DAMAGES FOR USE AND OCCUPATION

Another area of difference between mesne profits and damages for use and occupation is the date of commencement. Mesne profits start to run from the date of service of the process for determining the tenancy (see Canas Property Co. Ltd. v. K. L. Television Services Ltd. (1970) 2 QB 433. But damages for use and occupation start to run from the date of holding over the property, the function of the court being to ascertain an amount which may constitute a reasonable satisfaction for the use and occupation of the premises held over by the tenant. The previous rent may sometimes be a guide, but may not be conclusive.

– Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC. Petroleum v. Owodunni (1991)

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