Lagos residents seeking accommodation are facing harrowing experiences in the hands of unscrupulous individuals posing as estate agents.
This situation is getting uglier for prospective tenants, and residents are complaining that it has become an all-comers affair.
Barber shops, provision stores, business centres for typing and printing documents, betting centres and many other places have been turned into emergency solution centres for those in dire need of apartments to rent.
The increasing population in Lagos has made the demand for housing a minute-by-minute affair.
Many agents have cashed in on the situation to defraud prospective tenants. In many instances, once money gets into the hands of some agents, it is difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve the money even when no accommodation is provided.
Many have been swindled of their hard-earned money running into hundreds of millions of naira in some cases. There have been reports of single apartments that were rented out to as many as 10 persons at the same time. Some agents collect money from their clients but soon after disappear into thin air only to reappear after some months with fantastic stories.
Recently, a newlywed couple shared their bitter encounter in the hands of two different agents in Lagos with the reporter.
The husband, Mr. Onoriode Oghenekewe, narrated their ordeal: “We had our wedding on November 24, 2018, in Ughelli, Delta State. Before then, I was living in a single room as a bachelor at Agege, Lagos. But when I saw the need to move to a larger apartment, I contacted three or four estate agents.
“Since I was living in an environment that was a bit rough and dirty, I decided to move towards Ogba. About two months to my wedding, we began the search because I was to secure the house, equip it and move in with my wife immediately after the wedding. The agents showed me different houses until I picked the one I preferred.
“We met the landlady on that particular day and I promised to make the rent available later that day or the following morning. I was so much engaged at work that I could not make the payment as I promised the landlady and the agent.
“But towards the evening, the agent called me to send any money I had in order to secure the place and to stop another tenant who was already going to pay for the apartment. I asked him to come to my office and I gave him N100,000 to give to the landlady till the following morning. I had no reason to suspect him because he looked gentle and responsible.
“I was surprised when I called him in the morning to go and complete the payment and he said another agent had taken someone else to the place to pay for the house. But he quickly assured me that there were two other vacant apartments also in Ogba that I would love. He eventually took me to only one, which was not even in Ogba. When I began to suspect some foul play, I demanded for my money. He started giving me different stories.
“At the time, my wedding was just two weeks away and I had not seen a house to bringmy wife to. The agent could only refund N20,000 out of the N100,000, and that was after much pressure and threats. I later discovered that he was the one who rented the same flat I chose to another tenant who paid him a higher commission. I was furious, but the deed had been done.”
Oghenekewe said when the first agent was not forthcoming with his N80,000 balance, even as no other apartment was made available, he decided to contact another agent.
“The new agent showed me a house which was under construction. I was very careful this time around. We met someone who claimed to be the landlord and they told me that the maintenance would be ready in one week. But they told me that people had for long paid for other flats in the house.
“Well, I paid them N400,000 and was to balance N100,000. I was given a receipt to acknowledge my payment.
“But a day to when I was to travel to Delta for my wedding, the agent told me that the landlord said he was no longer giving out the apartment. To avoid what happened in the first place, I reported the case to the police. Two officers followed me to the place. That was when we met the original landlord who told us that the man who claimed to be the landlord was another agent who also brought other tenants to the new apartment. And we later confirmed what he said. At the time I paid, all the apartments had been paid for,” he said.
He said he had to proceed to the village to hold his wedding. He regretted that he was forced to bring his wife to the one-room apartment when he couldn’t help the situation.
According to him, it took him another three months to get N200,000 out of the the N400,000 from the fraudulent agents. And he and his bride spent another eight months before they could relocate to the house of their choice.
On May 31, 2018, one Apollos Obichi, an estate agent, was brought before an Ikeja magistrate’s court in Lagos for allegedly duping two accommodation seekers of N490,000. He was accused of obtaining money under false pretences and stealing.
The prosecutor, Inspector Victor Eruada, told the court that the accused committed the offences on February 21 last year in Mushin, Lagos. He said the accused obtained the money from two accommodation seekers on the pretext of letting out apartments to them.
“He collected N370,000 from Fatimat Ali on the pretext of letting out a mini-flat in Surulere. Obichi also obtained N120,000 from Aisha Rasheedat for a one-bedroom flat in Western Avenue, Surulere,” the prosecutor alleged.
Eruada said the complainants paid the money into the bank account of the accused after they had inspected the apartments: “The accused took the complainants to the houses. He asked them to pay the money into his bank account, which they did. The complainants went to the houses after payment, but the landlords denied them the houses, saying they did not know the accused.”
The act of agents swindling accommodation seekers contravenes sections 411, 287 and 314 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2015, which prescribes 15 years jail term for obtaining money under false pretences.
In July 2018, at least 20 accommodation seekers were duped by a man who paraded himself as the landlord of a house on Mojisola Street, Ifako, Agege, Lagos.
Lamenting, one of the victims said that she got to know that she had been duped one week after paying for the apartment.
“I paid on July 17, 2018, a sum of N220,000 for a mini apartment in cash to the landlord. We were asked to come for our keys on July 28, but we decided it was too far and told the agent we needed to move in sooner.
“l got there only to meet people in front of the compound who claimed they too had paid for the apartment and they had their receipt to show for it. Some people even paid since January while the house was under construction. They collected money for a single apartment from several people and now they are nowhere to be found,” she said.
In March 2018, it was retribution time for an estate agent who was sentenced to 1,230 years in imprisonment for defrauding 101 accommodation seekers.
Some of the victims who were in court when the judgement was read at the High Court Igbosere, Lagos, who couldn’t contain their joy, ran out of the premises and started screaming and thanking God for the judgement.
The agent, Babatunde Habeeb, bagged the sentence for duping the prospective tenants at different times of N28 million.
It was reported that Habeeb, also known as Babatunde Salawudeen, was first arraigned before an Ebute Metta chief magistrate’s court alongside his elder brother, Ishola Salawudeen, in 2013. They were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on an 82-count charge of conspiracy and defrauding 101 prospective tenants, and they pleaded “not guilty” to the charge, and were granted bail but Ishola absconded.
While delivering judgement, Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye found Habeeb guilty of all the charges and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment for each of all the counts.
Justice Ipaye said that the sentence would run concurrently, starting from March 12, 2014, when the defendant was arrested.
The judge said: “The defendants were motivated by greed; I am convinced that the convict and his brother acted together in the scam.”
Also, in July 2018, an estate agent, Olumide Dahunsi, was arrested by the police for allegedly defrauding five house seekers.
It was gathered that the unsuspecting clients had approached the 45-year-old agent for an apartment in a building under construction on Mojisola Street, Ifako-Ijaiye. The agent had allegedly collected payment from the house seekers for the apartments under the guise of speeding up the completion of the house.
But the clients found out that they had been tricked when they got to the house on July 23, 2018, and found occupants in the apartments they already paid for.
When the case was reported at the Area ‘G’ Police Command and the agent was arrested, he claimed he was working on behalf of the developer of the house, one Alhaji Hakeem Garba, who he knew through his son, Adeniyi Garba.
He said: “I don’t know his house, but I was told he lives in Ikorodu. I do not know his son’s office either.
“The money I collected from these people is for house rent. The house was under construction when they paid the money into my account. They went to take possession of their apartments and they saw that the apartments had been given to other persons. The money is not with me. I will produce the person I paid their money to,” he said.