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I put some screed on one wall a few days ago. One wall. It’s the wall behind my TV  – my proposed feature wall – so I look at it constantly and it pisses me the hell off. I had to screed. And then I measured the rest of the house to put screed gradually – because the person who rented it out doesn’t understand beauty and symmetry. Honestly, you can’t put a premium on screed. It’s the final stamp on building finishing. The way the angles become neat and sharp, the way you just want to run your hands over the walls every time you pass by, orgasmic. That is what screed does. (By the way, I just found out screed is noun not verb, so I cannot say ‘screeded’ like I like to. Bummer)

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Picture soon after screed was put on.

Now what is my grouse?

Caution fee.

You rent a house and pay caution fee, in my case 100,000 Naira.

Let’s assume that I lived here for three years. In three years, 100, 000 will be like 40, 000, the way things are going. Meanwhile, assuming I got the money back, the house owner gets 100, 000, but I get back 40, 000 at future value.

We’re still working with the assumption that I did get it back.

Most house-owners refuse to give back the caution fee. They point out a doorknob that broke or a socket that went bad and just like that, there goes your caution fee. You can see the triumphant ‘aha, there, you spoilt something! Kiss your caution fee goody bye-bye.’ Or they’d frustrate the process of collecting, make the chase for the money so long-winded and trying that in the end, it seems not worth it and you just decide out of sheer frustration to let it go. I have heard cases where the house owner goes ‘haba now? Can’t you just let it go?’ Bold like that.

But here’s the thing.

I won’t speak for others but let me speak for myself. When I live in a place, I aim to leave it better than I met it. This screed for instance is going to cost me at least 100,000 by the time I’m done. Just the screed. I’m going to use high-end, stain resistant satin or other gloss paint. That apart from all the other things I’ve done here and there already – like change the shower head because it was fucking lazy; like change the taps because the one that came didn’t have a mixer so you got either hot or cold water (what’s the point of a heater then?; like change the kitchen taps to pillar taps instead of the stupid one I met that made even hand washing a chore. And so on. You do so much. In the end, you spend a shitload of money, and then because you live in the place, you use it as gently as you possibly can.

When I move out, my landlord should be prostrate, thanking me. I’d have added like 200, 000 to the value of the house. But what will I get? Refusal to return my by now 40, 000 caution fee because… because something. Like, I broke a lamp-holder.

Is it any wonder therefore that tenants treat rented property shabbily? Especially when they know they’re moving out soon, they just destroy everything, and who can blame them, honestly? So that that money that the house owner refused to give back, they can at least use it in fixing the house back up for the next rental.

But for me, that’s not an option. I’m not destructive. I wouldn’t know how to destroy a place just to use up the caution fee I know I’m not getting back. So anyway, I lose. Seems unfair. I’d rather there was a law banning this caution fee of a thing. Instead, the house should be properly inventoried when you move in, and then when you’re leaving, inspected and you are made to repair the things you’d have spoiled before handing back the keys. But would such a law be enforceable? Look at the tenancy law in Lagos state. Most house-owners still collect two years’ rent. How do you enforce such a law when for every good affordable house, there are twenty people piled on thick and ready to shove you out of the way. How do you stop the house-owner from suddenly remembering they have a wife from the village relocating to town or a child from the abroad who is going to be needing the house and oops, I forgot, when you seem to be causing too much trouble. As it were, you have your money in hand and hold your breath until the keys are in your hand. The only way this can work – these tenancy laws, – is for the government to actively seek out house-owners who are persisting in the banned practices, instead of depending on desperate citizens to report the breach. I’d rather have a roof over my head than ensure the rule of law is upheld.

No, I don’t like this caution fee thing.

Isn’t that how throughout my schooling years, I paid caution fee and yet I never broke a single louvre or test tube? I feel like I should have broken something just to justify that charge.

I don’t like anything that infantilizes adults – that says I don’t trust you to behave properly so I’ll force you to. Like caution fees. Like enforced pension savings.

Like caution fees!

Disclaimer: this does not apply to laws. Laws are usually put in place to prevent people hurting others and usually in ways they cannot make amends for after the fact. And people are animals anyway. A broken house can usually be repaired.

 

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