As property co-ownership continues to rise in Lagos, those in this category have called for a stronger legal framework to reduce the problems arising from managing jointly-owned properties, EDIDIONG IKPOTO writes

A Lagos-based businesswoman, Mrs. Gladys Obinna, owns one block of flat in a three-storey building in Lekki, Lagos, a property she inherited following her husband’s demise in 2020. This property, according to her, is becoming something close to a nightmare due to the complexities of co-ownership which takes into account the interest of other co-owners of the property.

Co-ownership of property refers to a legal relationship where two or more people acquire or own a property jointly. In Nigeria, there are at least four recognised ways by which two or more persons may co-own a property, namely: joint tenancy, tenancy in common, tenancy by entirety and family ownership.

When property is held by co-owners as joint tenants, it entails that each joint tenant owns the whole of the property just as the others and they all have equal right of possession of the whole of the property.

None of the co-owners has a separate share or interest in the property. No joint tenant can claim any portion of the property as his own.

The joint tenants hold their interest in undivided shares and are deemed in the eyes of the law as one single owner, so that no joint tenant can dispose of any part of the property without the consent of the other tenants or first severing the joint tenancy.

However, for many property co-owners, there exists a loophole owing to lack of strong legal framework to checkmate the excesses that may arise from co-ownership of a property.

According to Obinna, having control over one’s legal property has become almost impossible due to conflict of interests which frequently arise with regard to management of the property.

She cited issues such as security and power as flashpoints that have constituted an albatross for co-owners who very frequently differ on how these issues should be managed.

Other times, even when concord is reached, some of the co-owners would flagrantly flout these consensual agreements.

She said, “My late husband bought the property in 2017. Ever since that time, managing it has been a headache. In the past two years alone we have had more than 15 different security personnel.

“The distribution of other bills like power and sanitation always bring conflict. It’s either this person doesn’t agree or the other person will travel and refuse to make the necessary financial commitment. It’s very frustrating.”

She added, “The legal structure guiding co-owner in Nigeria is weak. That’s the problem. When you have a situation like that it becomes hard to enforce resolutions.

“Last year we had an offer from an investor who wanted to buy the building. All the other co-owners agreed except one. Because of that, we couldn’t sell.

“The law prescribes that all joint-owners must be in agreement before the property is sold, but I believe in a situation where the majority favour a particular decision, the law should make a special exception.”

Mr. Bello Tajudeen, another co-owner of a block of flat in the Lekki area of Lagos State echoed similar sentiments.

According to him, while buying a block of flat may present a cheaper alternative, the complexities involved with regard to managing the property far outweighs the financial side of it.

Tajudeen said, “I think the idea of owning a property is to be able to make decisions concerning that property. That is what ownership is all about; to be able to use what you own how you want to use it.

“Unfortunately, co-ownership doesn’t give you that. I’m not going to get into the details, but, currently, in Lekki where I share property with some other co-owners, there is ongoing litigation there. We should not even be in court if the law was clear cut on some of these things.”

An expert in property law, Stella Nwanne, believes investors must be wary because joint ownership of any property is complex in nature as it involves two or more people coming together to own the property as joint owners or owners in common.

According to her, joint ownership is not about real or original owners alone. It can subsequently involve other joint holders in the future. As such, it is pertinent to consider these implications when investing in joint ownership or when drafting wills.

She said people should be educated on the differences between these types of joint ownership so as to guide them, particularly in their wills.

Nwanne said, “It is advisable to create tenancy in common because it protects the interest of each tenant (owner) unlike joint tenancy. Each tenant (owner) holds his/her own separate interest in the common property.

“When considering tenancy in common as a form of ownership, intending tenants (owners) should consider all the implications and obtain advice from knowledgeable professionals.”

However, some experts, who shared their insights with The PUNCH believe that the most fundamental role of the law in co-ownership of a property is to ensure property delineation and protect the ownership of all involved parties.

The Managing Partner, MDS Properties, David Mbah, told our correspondent that each buyer was protected by the law as far as his ownership of the property was concerned, while any spillover issues such as management did not fall under the purview of the law.

Mbah said, “If you have a block of four apartments, and four different people buy the units. All four of them will have their title deeds, and they will go to the government and register those title deeds.

“All four of them will also have their survey plan which will delineate their own section in the building. Once you have your survey plan and title deed done and registered, you’re an eligible owner. Four different people can own one piece of property.

“You are not laying claim to the land, you are laying claim to your own portion of the property. If there is already a C-of-O on the land and four different buyers come to buy. The owner of that C-of-O will issue four different title deeds to all the buyers.

He added, “Those buyers will now go and register those titles. The moment the four of them register those titles, the land ceases to be the property of the person who owns that C-of-O. The interest on the land transfers to all those people holding the governor’s consent.

“In the event where someone wants to buy everything and break it down. He still has to talk to all those four people. You’re seeing a piece of land with four flats on it. In actual sense, that piece of land is divided into four. That’s how the law sees it.”

Asked if conflicts arising from management of these properties might not blow over in due course, Mbah said such conflicts were obvious risks which buyers were very much aware of before embarking on joint-ownership.

He said, “That’s a different kettle of fish. That is under community management. How you manage that is very simple. That is where your facility manager comes into play. Your facility manager stands as a middleman between all the owners.

“If there are any issues, you have someone who can manage these issues. In a situation where you have co-owners who do not agree with you on how to manage the property, those are part of the risks involved.”

Also speaking, the President of the Nigerian Institution of Builders in Facility Management, Dr. Akinsola Olufemi, said possible conflicts that could arise from co-ownership of properties would be effectively managed if co-owners had consensus to employ the services of professional facility managers.

He said, “In such cases, you find out that the arrangement is always for the developer handling the facility management of such property. If each owner occupies a flat with many apartments, then maintenance and management of such a facility, for it to be easy, is always handled by the vendor of such property, because there is always an agreement.

“Even if you want to buy a property from a real estate developer now, there is always an agreement you will sign that spells out the facility management that will be provided. The land cannot belong to one person.

“It is a common heritage for the four people who occupy that property. If an event like fire happens and the building is burnt, such properties always have insurance coverage. You cannot own the land. You own part of the property that is given to you.”

Olufemi added, “Because there is a deed of assignment given to each investor for that particular portion he purchased. It is not the entire property that is given to a person.

“It is a portion of it. It is that portion that is your own. You cannot own what was not in your agreement. It is your own that you can transfer. You can’t transfer other people’s property.”

According to Olufemi, historical antecedents had shown that whenever adequate measures for facility management of co-owned properties and estates had not been put in place, differences in opinion and various kinds of infighting often thrived.

He said, “That one mostly happens in government properties. If you look at Lagos State estates now, like Jakande Estate, they have a problem with management of such properties, because the government gave out the place without adequate facilities’ management arrangement.

“Even though later, some of those owners contracted it out to some facility management organisations to manage it for them, and they have a yearly fee they pay for the management of such estates.”