By Funmilayo Olagunju
The second definition of set off by Black’s Law dictionary is appropriate for this topic:
“A debtor’s right to reduce the amount of a debt by any sum the creditor owes the debtor; the counterbalancing sum owes by the creditor”
Rent set-off basically describes a situation where tenant makes deduction from the rent s/he would ordinarily have paid on the ground that the Landlord is indebted to him/her. The common example is renovation.
In KHALIFA V. ONOTU & ANOR
(2019) LPELR-51293(CA), the Court held that “a tenant is only entitled to set-off for the cost of improvements or repairs done on demised property where the repairs were carried out were done with the prior approval of the landlord”
The Conditions for rent set-off by tenant against the landlord was stated in British Anzari(UK) Ltd (1979);
The tenant is obliged to pay his rent as and when due. But all is not lost, he can set-off in his landlord’s action, a claim for money expended to effect any repairs the landlord was under an obligation to effect on the following conditions:-
1. He must prove that he informed his landlord of the disrepair.
2. He gave his reasonable time to effect the repair
3. The repair he effected is of good quality and 4. The sum he expended to effect the repair is reasonable.”
In Bocas Nig Ltd v. WemaBod Estate Ltd (2016) LPELR-40193 (CA), the Court held thus;
“From all indications, rent is in a class of its own, and it also stands very tall because the agreement to pay rent out shines any other consideration. In other words, a tenant is not at liberty to engage in a rent strike because its covenant to pay rent is independent of the landlord’s obligation to effect repairs”
The duty of the tenant to pay rent technically outweighs the Landlord’s duty to repair. Renovation, no matter how extensive does not ordinarily confer the legal right of rent set off when the stipulated conditions aren’t met.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law”