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Estate case dispute gets new judge

By Silver Nwokoro
20 September 2022   |   3:34 am
A property case involving the administrators of the estate of Regina Omoloto Wright and their tenant, Star Properties Limited, has been assigned to a new judge, Justice Olalekan Ayodeji Oresanya, of the Lagos State High Court.

A property case involving the administrators of the estate of Regina Omoloto Wright and their tenant, Star Properties Limited, has been assigned to a new judge, Justice Olalekan Ayodeji Oresanya, of the Lagos State High Court.

The case was formerly before Justice Taofiquat Oyekan-Abdullahi, who has retired.

The case will come up for the first time before Oresanya on Wednesday, September 21, 2022.

The estate administrators rejected a bid by the tenant of the Lagos Island property to pay a 1958 lease of £130 (about N60,000) per annum.

The family, represented by Adediran Thomas and Mrs Oyinkansola Obasi (nee Thomas), contends that the yearly rental value of the property as of 2016 was N15 million as determined by estate valuers, but that the occupiers are insisting on paying the old rate.

Star Properties, whose directors and founders include, Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, is seeking an interpretation of the 1958 lease agreement on the property on 3, Ganiyu Smith Road, opposite St Nicholas Hospital, Lagos Island.

The family, in their counter-affidavit, said the late Mrs Wright owned the property, formerly on 3, Prison Street, Lagos Island, with title number L01630 registered with the Lagos Ministry of Lands on April 16, 1948. She also built on it.

The administrators said the late Mrs Wright signed a lease agreement with Mr Maroun Daakour on June 16, 1958, for a 99-year lease commencing April 1, 1958, at £130 per annum.

Based on the agreement, Daakour subsequently sub-let the property to Vensimal Sawlani and Hotchand Sawlani on August 31, 1961, before Star Properties eventually took over from the Sawlanis.

After the original estate administrators died, Mr Thomas and Mrs Obasi were appointed as the administrators.

Star Properties failed to pay for 14 years the naira equivalent of £130, which it insisted on paying, thereby, rendering that contract null and void, according to the family.

The administrators said records from the Lagos land registry indicate that the property was recorded as being owned by the Ogunbanjos, rather than tenants or leaseholders.

They said all efforts to negotiate and reach a compromise with Star Properties and the Ogunbanjos proved abortive.

The family of Mrs Omoloto Wright is of the view that Star Properties/the Ogunbanjos are only tenants, as there was no leasehold contract, with them.

The family insists that the 1958 leasehold contract which was with Maroun Daakor was so bad and one sided, with no review clauses.

It is praying the court to disallow the injustice from continuing, especially with a party, which was not a signatory to the contract.

The respondents had briefed their lawyer to open negotiations with Star Properties to seek an amicable settlement of the issues.

They engaged an estate valuer, Jide Taiwo & Co, which estimated the property’s unpaid rental income for 14 years (2003-2016) as N90 million.

The family asked the tenant to pay half of the sum, but Star Properties refused the reduction and rejected the valuation report.

The administrators said when the matter could not be resolved amicably, they asked their lawyers to issue a quit notice to Star Properties partly for non-payment of rent, which as of 2016, was 14 years overdue.

Two months after the quit notice, Star Properties sent a cheque of N1,082,000, which in its view was supposed to cover the 14 years of unpaid rent, but the administrators rejected it.

The respondents said Star Properties did not pay the outstanding rent or move out at the expiration of the quit notice.

But Star Properties said, it “acted in good faith by issuing the cheque for the rent due in compliance with the lease agreement between parties.”

The tenant argued that it was not part of the terms of the lease that the rent will be reviewed before its expiration.

It added that it only agreed to a review of the rent “on compassionate ground” and is “not even bound to concede to the review of the agreed rent.”

The case has suffered adjournments and delays, so, parties will hope that the new judge will decide it expeditiously.