Despite having the funds to get themselves accommodation, many single ladies in Lagos and major cities across the country often experience difficulty in getting an apartment for rent owing to the fact that some landlords decline giving their houses to unmarried women and the reasons for this vary, write TUNDE AJAJA and TIMILEYIN AKINKAHUNSI
By the time she emerged from the long meeting she and her agent had with her prospective landlord that morning, 43-year-old Miss Toyosi Adeyemi had become completely flustered and angry. For the fourth time in three days, she had been rejected by landlords on account of being single.
In company with her younger sister two days earlier, she had inspected the vacant two-bedroomed flat belonging to a 73-year-old retired civil servant and his wife and had fallen in love with the premises, located in Omole Phase I Estate on Lagos Mainland, less than 30 minutes drive from her office on Allen Avenue.
In fact, she recalled in an encounter with one of our correspondents that during her first visit, as she moved round the tastefully finished house, she already imagined how she would arrange her things; where her gadgets would be; how she would place her mattress; foldable wardrobe, shoe rack and other personal effects. It was the best house she had seen since she started looking for accommodation a month ago.
But, as a precursor to renting the apartment, the agent had told her the landlord would like to meet with her. Unknown to her, it was another nightmare in waiting, as her marital status became the hurdle, like the ones she had visited.
“I had been to about six houses before that and the complaint had always been that I was single, and they almost made it look like it was a bad thing to be single,” she said.
“When she told me of this one, I was optimistic the landlord wouldn’t have an issue with my marital status because I already told the agent to clarify that part before inviting me for any inspection, so when he invited me I thought all was well.
“I was shocked when I got there and they asked about my husband. I told them I was single and one could see the expression on their faces. Even when I told them I had a good job and would pay my rent as and when due, they refused. They said they preferred a couple or single but employed man to single women.”
Desperate to get the house, settle down and move on to other things, Adeyemi said she lied that she already had a fiancé and they would soon get married but that he was still abroad, they said they had heard such stories before and would not fall for that.
She continued, “I pleaded with them, because I was tired of everything, but they weren’t ready to yield. Actually, the man almost agreed, but his wife refused.”
Unable to bear the numerous questions thrown at her, and their drift towards counselling her on why she should have been married at her age, as they even wondered why such a pretty lady could be single, she stormed out of the meeting and left the premises.
“They were tending towards my personal life and insinuating that every young woman sleeps around, but I wouldn’t take that from anyone; I just stood up and left. Sometimes, I ask myself if it’s now a crime to be single,” she added.
At the moment, Adeyemi is constrained to squat with her friend somewhere in Egbeda until she finds an accommodation where her marital status wouldn’t be a hindrance.
A career woman with reasonable income, she said in her lone moments, the difficulty she had gone through made it look like the odds were stacked against her, despite having the means to pay for any moderate accommodation of her choice.
But, unknown to Adeyemi, she’s not alone; such torturous experience is, in fact, central to what many other single women go through, especially in Lagos and some other cities across the country.
Rebecca Ajayi’s case is particularly interesting, as well as pitiable. After securing a job in Lagos, she had to relocate from her base in Ilorin, Kwara State, where she had lived all her life, even though she had no idea where to stay when she gets to Lagos.
With just two weeks to settle down and resume her new job, the 38-year-old, who sponsored herself through school having lost her father at a tender age and left with a mother who was into petty business that could barely see her two siblings through school, said she was constrained to stay with a cousin who got married not too long ago; the same place she stayed when she came for the test and interview.
“With the way the wife behaved, I had to cut short my stay, forgetting all I did during their wedding,” she said.
“When I was called to resume, it was somewhat a bittersweet experience because I didn’t want to go back there, yet I couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel, but I had no alternative but to go back there.
“She didn’t hide her displeasure, but I didn’t mind because the job was more important. My mum even tried getting a loan from the thrift society she belonged to, but it didn’t work.
“After about two months, I was able to get salary advance and with that I knew an end had come to the looming trouble that awaited me every day I returned home.”
Beyond the joy of having her own apartment in a short while, Rebecca, a beautiful, buxom lady, went ahead to inform her two siblings to get ready to join her in Lagos. But she never knew the hurdle that awaited her from Lagos landlords, on account of her marital status.
“Will you believe that for one full month, I couldn’t get an accommodation? It started like a joke, but I soon realised what I was up against.
“Not because I didn’t have money to pay or that there were no good houses, I saw beautiful houses that I liked, but the landlords simply wouldn’t let out their flats to me, just because I’m single. They said they preferred married persons. And there is nothing you would tell them that would make them change their minds.
“In fact, with the way the landlords and landladies spoke about single ladies and the thought that they would be bringing different men to the house, I told my agents never to call me until they found a landlord who was ready to give out the house regardless of marital status.
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“One of the landladies even told me that she didn’t want her house to be turned to a mini-brothel and I almost fought her, but I had to ignore her. At the end of the day, I got one in Gbagada, but not the part of Gbagada I would love to stay, but because the trouble in my cousin’s house was becoming unbearable, I had to leave. Now, I’m planning to leave soon, because I’m better than this place I am.”
Regardless of colour, state of origin, school attended and even place of work, it would seem that landlords and landladies, especially in Lagos, have deep reservations about giving their houses to women who are not married for residential purpose.
Sadly, the same treatment is meted out to widows.
Why landlords dread single women
In the Lagos State Tenancy Law 2011, the prerogative of property owners to rent or let out their properties to whoever they please was not tampered with, hence landlords could be selective as much as they want.
Perhaps, that of women also has to do with the notion in this part of the world that a grown up woman that is not married should not live alone, but should rather remain with her parents.
But as common as this is, there are also landlords who are not bothered about the marital status of their prospective tenants; what matters to them is the ability of such a tenant to pay their rent subsequently.
This informs why some estate surveyors or property managers include in their acquaintance form, which is the form given to a new tenant to fill, the slot for such tenants to disclose their annual income. Some even go to the extent of asking for bank statement.
Meanwhile, some landlords who spoke to Saturday PUNCH explained that culture and past experiences informed their reluctance to give their houses to single women.
A landlord, Mr. Ahmed Tijani, who owns a block of six flats in Mende, Maryland in Lagos, said he would rather rent his house out to married couples than to single ladies. He said he wouldn’t mind asking for marriage certificate if he had any suspicion, adding that past experiences had taught him lessons.
He said, “There was a time I had two single women as tenants and I almost regretted it. They were always having parties and coming back late in the night, sometimes with their male friends and some of them just acted irresponsibly. Subsequently, they started coming home with all kinds of men. I had to evict them, before they influence female children in the neighbourhood, because they had money. I didn’t want the young girls in the compound, especially my grandchildren, to start seeing that as a shortcut to financial independence.
“You know that in this part of the world, a man can be pardoned for sleeping around, which is quite condemnable on its own, but a woman being wayward is almost unpardonable. I’ve seen that happen and I can’t afford it again. I would rather leave the house vacant than give it to a single lady.”
When reminded that all women, whether single or married are not the same, he said there was no way to tell or predict people’s tendencies and that he would rather avoid it.
“Even if a married woman is wayward, she would do it discreetly and not the way a single person would,” he added.
Mrs. Folasade Aina, a 72-year-old property owner in Lekki Phase I on Lagos Island, told one of our correspondents why she would never rent her house to a single woman.
She said apart from the belief that such comfort could inadvertently encourage them to remain single, such women could go “wild and turn the house to a meeting point for all kinds of men, especially those who use that as a source of income.”
She said, “I have had instances where estate agents bring single ladies to me but I don’t think twice about it, because you don’t know which among them would turn the house to something else. Besides, it’s not dignifying for a grown up woman not to have a husband. What are they waiting for? There are other houses they can live in, but not mine.
“In this estate, most of the houses are duplexes. So, tell me, what is the agenda of a single woman renting a four-bedroomed duplex. Before long, they would bring their friends and turn the place to a market place.
“Let me tell you, when my own daughter had not married, she stayed with me till a man came to seek her hand in marriage and I believe that is the way it should be, not for her to go and rent a house and be living alone. It’s not even cultural, because she would not be respected.”
Beyond the cultural sentiment, interactions with landlords also revealed that some landlords or their wives reject single ladies to protect their homes.
Some wives of landlords are of the view that allowing a single woman into their homes could serve as temptation for their husbands or their adult male children.
Mrs. Eunice, as she preferred to be called, who lives with her husband in one of their blocks of four three-bedroomed flats in Gbagada Phase II Estate, said allowing a single woman into the midst of married men could never yield any good result.
She said, “My husband must not see this (laughs…). You know men are moved by what they see, so you too imagine the danger of living with a beautiful single lady in the same compound. It doesn’t mean all men are promiscuous, but it’s like sitting on a time bomb. We have seen married women sleeping around with men, not to now talk of single women. I can’t allow my husband give our house to single women.
“Apart from protecting my home, I have two male children who are in their 30s and I wouldn’t want them to fall into the hands of such women because we are humans, prone to errors and temptations.”
Some landlords also told Saturday PUNCH that some single women, especially those who have relationship with influential men, believe they can do whatever they like, including not paying their rent.
“I have that kind of a situation at hand now,” said Mr. Dolapo Arise, a Lagos-based property manager. “The landlord had expressed his reservations the first time I took the lady to him; that was three years ago. He insisted that he didn’t want a single woman but I persuaded him that she would not be troublesome.
“Now, we are having serious issues with her. She doesn’t want to pay her rent and I wonder what I had got myself into. Her rent expired in December last year, but till now, she had yet to pay, and even if you ask her, she would sound like she’s doing you a favour. She’s very arrogant.
“We even summoned her to come to the office so we could agree on how she would pay her arrears, but she wouldn’t show up. Now, we want her to pay and the moment she does, we would evict her. And there is this belief that the Lagos tenancy law is designed to protect the tenant.
“I can tell you from experience that couples are easier to deal with than singles, whether man or woman, because the sense of responsibility is higher in couples than in people who are single.”
Interestingly, this trend is not exclusive to Nigeria, findings show that it happens in different parts of the world, including Kenya and Ireland.
The Irish Times, which is an Irish daily newspaper, had reported that a single person looking for a house could sometimes be seen as a weird venture.
For example, in Kenya, report says that some landlords in the nation’s capital, Nairobi, had issued stern warnings to agents not to bother bringing single women to them as prospective tenants, because according to them, the single women they had as tenants had turned the houses into homes of sex.
In fact, reports by SDE and Standard Digital, both media organisations in Kenya said some of them resort into asking for marriage certificate before renting out their houses to women.
In a report about a month ago, SDE reported that single women now look for men to accompany them to meet landlords.
A smart way out
Given the enormous difficulty single women go through in getting accommodation, some have now deployed a means of getting their male friends or colleagues to pose as their husbands, just to cross the hurdle with insistent landlords and landladies.
For example, Uka Okoye, a talented beautician and single mother of one, said she had to beg her male friend to pose as her husband before she was able to get an apartment of her choice in Maryland where she runs her makeup studio.
“I visited several places in search of a good mini-flat apartment or a two-bedroomed house close to my studio but no landlord was ready to take a single mother,” declared Okoye.
She added, “Once I tell them I’m a beautician, they look at me like a prostitute, which can be very painful. After several failed attempts, agents then advised me to look for a man to pose as my husband when it’s time to see the landlord, and to my greatest surprise, the trick worked.
“Of course I would act like a submissive wife who allows her husband to do the talking, the reception was always different. They were more friendly and accommodating, and I made sure that my ‘husband’ tells them he just needed to get the place for us before he travelled, so that when they start seeing only me after we pay, they would understand.”
As she envisaged, after getting her apartment, her landlord asked the whereabouts of her husband. She said she reminded him that he had travelled out of the country.
“Few weeks after I parked into the apartment, my landlord was always saying he was worried that he was not seeing my husband but I had an already made answer for him. The deed had already been done and there was nothing he could do about it because the tenancy agreement had been signed,” she said as she laughed hysterically.
According to findings, that is the latest trick used by single ladies to get a rented apartment in Lagos because most landlords always tell their agents not to bring single ladies to them at all.
“Some even ask their brothers to front as their husbands and it helps because a sibling could come in anytime, without any suspicion,” an agent, Deola Komolafe, said.
“The interesting thing is that single men are more guilty of sleeping around, but you know that when it comes to issues of morality, all eyes are on women,” he added.
An Abuja-based estate surveyor, Mr. Alabi Olanrewaju, said it was the prerogative of landlords on who they want to give their houses to, and that estate surveyors or property managers could only be advisory.
He said being a difficult tenant was not a function of gender or marital status, but a function of individual differences.
He said, “I think it’s more prevalent in Lagos than Abuja, because in Abuja, landlords are after prompt payment of their rent.
“Though single men are also guilty of reasons why landlords don’t want single women, the society has a way of looking down on women who live alone even without sleeping around, while that of men is seen as pardonable. That sentiment is always there. Yet, it’s not every woman that sleeps around and as a matter of fact, they are even more cautious than men.
“Some of the landlords also believe that couples are easier to relate with than a single woman who lives alone or one who lives with fellow women.”
According to a sociologist, Dr. Franca Attoh, the reluctance by such landlords was a reflection of the society.
He said, “These issues stem from patriarchy; the fact that we have been socialised into believing that a woman must have a man. It is believed that a woman must either be married or have a man that she will be responsible to otherwise she will not be seen as a responsible woman. These are prejudices that stem from our socialization and it guides our actions without us realising that these prejudices are there.
“What some single women eventually do is that they find a man like an uncle or a male relative who will stand as a surety to get a rented apartment.”