Estate Administrators in Court over 64-year-old Lease Amount

By Onyebuchi Sampson

The administrators of the estate of Regina Omoloto Wright have rejected a bid by a tenant to their Lagos Island property to pay a 1958 lease of £130 (about N60, 000) yearly.

The family, represented by Adediran Thomas and Mrs. Oyinkansola Obasi (nee Thomas), contends that the yearly rental value of the property as of 2016 was put at N15 million by estate valuers, but the occupiers have insisted on paying the old rate.

The tenant, Star Properties Limited, whose directors and founders include Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, filed a suit at the Lagos State High Court seeking an interpretation of the 1958 lease agreement on the property at 3, Ganiyu Smith Road, opposite St Nicholas Hospital, Lagos Island.

The family, in their counter-affidavit, said the late Mrs. Wright owned the property, which was formerly on 3, Prison Street, Lagos Island, with title number L01630 registered with Lagos Ministry of Lands on April 16, 1948. She also built on it.

The administrators said the late Wright signed a lease agreement with Mr. Maroun Daakour on June 16, 1958, for a 99-year lease on the property commencing April 1, 1958, at £130 yearly.

Based on the agreement, Daakour subsequently sub-let the property to Vensimal Sawlani and Hotchand Sawlani on August 31, 1961, before Star Properties eventually took over from the Sawlanis.

After the original estate administrators passed on, Mr. Thomas and Mrs Obasi were appointed as the administrators.

They briefed their lawyer to open negotiations with the applicant to seek an amicable settlement of the issues.

The family engaged an estate valuer, Jide Taiwo & Co, which estimated the property’s unpaid rental income for 14 years (2003-2016) as N90 million.

The family asked the applicant to pay half of it, but Star Properties refused the reduction and rejected the valuation report.

The administrators said when the matter could not be resolved amicably, they asked their lawyers to issue a quit notice to Star Properties partly for non-payment of rent, which as of 2016, was 14 years overdue.

Two months after the quit notice, Star Properties sent a cheque of N1, 082,000, which in its view was supposed to cover the 14 years of unpaid rent, but the administrators rejected it. It filed the suit to challenge the quit notice.

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The respondents said Star Properties did not pay the outstanding rent or move out at the expiration of the quit notice.

They said their lawyer notified the tenant on August 1, 2017, of their intention to recover possession of the property, but the tenant is “still retaining possession of the landed property…and has refused to pay its rent.”

The family, in an earlier suit they filed, which is now on appeal, is praying the court to order Star Properties to pay the arrears of rent from March 2003 to July 2017 in the sum of N90 million and a Mesne profit from August 1, 2017, at the sum of N1, 250,000 per month until possession is given up.

The administrators are also contending that Star Properties was not a party to the original lease agreement with Mrs. Wright and therefore cannot seek to enforce it.

“There is no lease agreement between the respondents and the applicant (Star Properties),” the family said.

But, Star Properties in its suit pending before Justice Taofiquat Oyekan-Abdullahi, is praying the court to hold that the quit notice issued by the family was not in accordance with the lease agreement.

The firm said the Sawlanis transferred residue of the lease to it “with the same yearly rent as agreed in the head lease”.

Star Properties told the court: “Since settlement has broken down between parties and the defendants were insisting that the unilaterally reviewed rent should be paid, the claimant in compliance with the agreed terms of the head lease issued a cheque dated March 21, 2017, in favour of the defendants for the sum of N1, 082,250 calculated at £130 yearly multiplied by the current exchange rate being the rent due for the property.”

The property firm added that since parties were unable to resolve the rent review, “it will be in the interest of the justice” for the court to determine what the appropriate rent should be.

Star Properties said it “acted in good faith by issuing the cheque for the rent due in compliance with the lease agreement between parties, more so that efforts to resolve the rent review and valuation of the reversionary interest in the 41 years residue of the lease granted to the claimant have failed”.

The company argued that it was not part of the terms of the lease that the rent will be reviewed before its expiration, adding that it only agreed to a review “on compassionate ground” and is “not even bound to concede to the review of the agreed rent”.

The case, filed in 2017, has suffered delay due to numerous adjournments.

It was to come up on February 8 before Justice Oyekan-Abdullahi, but it was not listed for hearing.

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