If anyone had told me that looking for an apartment in Lagos would be such a daunting task, I may have carefully considered staying back in my father’s house. Perhaps, until I could afford to build a house of my own, meeting all my standards but even more, not have to deal with the rather cynical and stereotypical comments made by the agents and the house owners. Of course, everyone looking for a house in Lagos has a story but those who get the worse hit are young adults especially young women.
By Oma Ehiri
In my case, I am a rather small lady whose age isn’t immediately obvious. This causes a few to assume that I must be much younger than I actually am. Very few accept that this young working-class woman has crossed 25 and even has a second degree. You may wonder, what does all of this have to do with finding an apartment in Lagos? Everything: From your age to the kind of job that you do; the people that may be living with you, who your friends are; your relationship status; your lifestyle… because they need to know if you’re “the type that stays out late”, whatever that means. And, the most ridiculous of all, your tribe.
Three years ago, I set out to find an apartment for myself. My life was changing and that called for a move. I had to leave the only home I had ever known to live on my own. Everything in me assumed that this was as simple as calling an agent, giving a brief on what I was looking for and boom, I’d get an apartment that fits the brief, make payment, and move in. It turns out, it’s not that straightforward. Finding the perfect real estate agent was a rather herculean task as most of the agents in Lagos just do not seem to understand what it means to serve the customer. They have their minds set on selling you an apartment rather than listening to what you want. If you push, you are considered difficult.
Finally, I got an agent. A young lad, eager to find me an apartment so that he could quickly close a deal and get his commission. He took me to a few apartments which I liked but couldn’t get. First, there was the rather weird story of some apartments being scorpion houses. I honestly do not quite understand what that means in totality, and I did not wish to delve into that. Then there were the houses which had very good structures, but the rooms were too small to fit a Queen-sized bed. Once you place the bed, the room is too choked to fit anything else including a closet. If the rooms were okay, the living room was too small, or it was the kitchen looking like a store. The prices were not exactly cheap for what I was looking for and that it made me wonder why they were trying to fit in too many flats in one plot and still request exorbitant fees.
Eventually, I found a few that hit the mark for me. That was when the stereotypical interviews began. I almost pulled out my hair wondering why I took those long inspections if I still needed to be drilled by the lawyers or the house owners. These interviews were not always about finding out if I had an honest job but about my tribe and whether I was married. I heard a friend say that a house owner did not wish to rent/sell an apartment to him because he was from a certain tribe. And the agent, eager to give him the house, asked if he could lie to the house owner about where he was from. Of course, he declined, as he should. I got some of that but the most was these lawyers and house owners telling me to my face that it was not constitutional for them to rent a house to a (single?) woman.
They asked me to get a man to stand in for me as only then could I get the apartment. So, it is okay to take money from a woman but not okay to let her sign the tenancy agreement? After finding a house that I loved, I had to take my dad with me to inspect the space and had my brother-in-law sign the papers before I moved in. Need I mention that I already paid the lawyer for the house before being told that I needed a man to stand in. One part of me wanted to request for my money back but the stress of the past couple of months was not worth going through again.
Unfortunately, my isn’t unique. Many women face similar setbacks (or worse) every day in their search for an apartment in Nigeria. I am still looking out for this law that makes it hard for a woman to rent an apartment in Lagos. If she is a widow, it is a problem. If she is single, it is assumed that she is unstable? Just several stories that make me question at what level do we begin to demand an end to gender discrimination.
After my last house hunting experience, let me just say that I may not be moving out of my current apartment anytime soon unless someone does all the running around for me. Unfortunately, from experience, pictures do not exactly tell the story. So, before you decide you like a house, you better visit and brace yourself for the frustrating, sexist and unfair experience that is finding a home in Nigeria.