By Nana Ama Gyasiwaa Asare
Fawzia Ishak had had enough of the tenants who occupy her mother’s two-bedroom house near Zongo Junction in Madina. The tenant, Nana Amoh and wife, had refused to pay the rent after the tenancy agreement with the landlady, Ishak’s mother, expired in June 2018. Ishak’s mother had pleaded with the tenants several times to vacate the house but Amoh refused to pay the rent due or move out of the house because he claimed he had done a lot of renovation on the apartment and insisted on his right to stay.
Amoh’s family first moved into the apartment in 1986 when Amoh was still a teenager and even after the death of his parents he continued to stay in it and start his own family in the house.
In 2016, Amoh felt the house needed some renovations and reached out to his landlady who did not see the renovations as necessary and did not follow up on it. Amoh then decided to do it himself and went ahead to tile the floor of the house and do some major works in the bathroom with the hope of sending the payment receipts to his landlady and getting his money back. This did not happen and he found himself on the wrong side of the law when his landlady sued him for unlawfully occupying the house and won. This kind of dispute is very familiar to the Madina Magistrate Court.
According to Daniel Agyapong, a clerk at the Madina Magistrate Court, Tenants, and landlords in Madina and its suburbs settle disputes between them at the Magistrate Court most of the time.
“The court presides over issues that deal with ownership, possession or occupation of land and houses between landlords and tenants,” Agyapong said
The Court’s jurisdiction covers landed properties that do not exceed 10 million Ghana cedis.
“Landlord-tenancy issues are very common cases that get brought here,” Agyepong said. “I cannot give you a certain percentage of such cases that get resolved here, but it’s a lot.”
Tenancy disputes are commonplace in Ghana. A research report by Lamudi Ghana shows that over 70 percent of people living in various properties want to move into new ones based on reasons which include disputes with their landlords – most of which are as a result of them being ignorant about laws regarding tenancy and guidelines before signing tenancy agreements.
“There are several laws that regulate tenancy in Ghana, which must be reflected in tenancy agreements signed by tenants, binding the occupancy of the tenant in the property,” said Ralph Tornu, a magistrate at the Madina Court.
The Rent Control Law PNDCL 138 and the Rent Act, of 1963, which govern the relationship between tenants and landowners dictates what should go into the tenancy agreement between a tenant and the landowner.
Tenancy agreements must include the name of the person the property is being leased to, the address of the property, how much the rent costs, the duration of the lease and the obligations of the landlord, as well as the tenant. The tenancy agreement needs to include the rules and rights of both parties involved, be signed by both parties and a copy of the agreement kept by everyone.
“The Rent Act also regulates the eviction of tenants by the landlords by procuring the tenant some time to search for new accommodation,” Tornu said. “This is usually not less than three months”.
There are however some exceptions to this law.
When a landowner has an immediate need to use his property or has to do renovations on the property, the court can order the tenant to immediately vacate the premises.
Landowners are also obliged by law to compensate tenants when tenants undertake initiatives to improve the premises. This is supported by Section 21 of the Rent Act.
“We always advise landlords and their tenants to put any agreement they make on issues like this in print so that it clearly spells out what is going to be done and the benefits it will bring,” Abigail Baah, a Magistrate at the Madina Court said.
When landowners do repairs or maintenance on the house that are not specifically aimed at particularly benefitting the tenants, the landowner must take care of the cost.
Although landowner–tenancy disputes can be settled in court, there is a government agency mandated by the law to resolve issues like this.
“The ideal place to go when facing issues with your landlord is the Rent Control Department,” Baah said. “They specialize exclusively in handling disagreements between tenants, landlords, and other stakeholders when it comes to properties”.
The Rent Control Department, which was established in 1963, is mandated by the Rent Act of Ghana to handle disputes and issues involving tenancy and land ownership in the country. The Department will, however, become a body responsible for setting general rent prices if the proposed reform of the Ghana Rent Act is passed.
The proposed reform seeks to move power from the hands of the landowners to the Department of Rent Control. It also seeks to empower the Department of Rent Control by sending people from the Department out to educate both tenants and landowners on their rights and responsibilities.
The reform also proposes monthly rent payment as opposed to the 6-month rent law that is detailed currently under the law. The proposed reform gives the Rent Control department the mandate to give landowners a price range by which they must abide by.
The proposed reform aims to regulate Ghana’s real estate problems that are controlled by the owners of the properties only.