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‘How homeowners lost legal battle against estate managers’

By Joseph Onyekwere
17 May 2022   |   3:27 am
A Lagos High Court, Ikeja, after seven years adjudication, finally resolved the matter filed by homeowners in Pearls Garden Estate, Sangotedo, Lagos against the management of the estate, CMB Building Maintenance and Investment Company Ltd, over service charges.

A Lagos High Court, Ikeja, after seven years adjudication, finally resolved the matter filed by homeowners in Pearls Garden Estate, Sangotedo, Lagos against the management of the estate, CMB Building Maintenance and Investment Company Ltd, over service charges.

The homeowners, in 2017, represented by Francis Adesuyi, Felix Obiakor, Martin Ajayi-Obe and Peter Afenotan, had sued CMB over alleged increase in service charge, reticulation charge and non-provision of some services.

The previous landowner, Oyetubo Jokotade Estate Resource Limited was also joined in the suit as co-defendant. The homeowners, who sought N100million in damages, claimed that despite not providing certain services stipulated in the land sales and management agreement, CMB unilaterally increased its service charges without consulting them.

They also claimed that CMB used security personnel to harass, intimidate and lock the estate gate against some of them who refused to pay the service charge.

But CMB in its defence maintained that since it took over the management of the estate, it has provided a water reservoir, access roads, 24 hours security, waste disposal and many other services to the homeowners as contained in the land sales and management agreement.

The estate management company further averred that a reticulation fees was levied on the homeowners to facilitate the connection of the central water treatment reservoir to their homes.

CBM insisted that the service charge was increased to N35, 000 monthly to enable it meet its obligation to the landowners. During the trial, which began in 2018, the four claimants who filed the suit testified for themselves and on behalf of the homeowners and tenders exhibits such as the their original purchase receipts, deed of assignment and sales and management agreement.

CMB represented by Maximilian Omokpo also testified in the matter and insisted that the estate management company provided all the necessary services stipulated in the management agreed.

Omokpo denied the allegation of molestation and harassment by the homeowners and clarified that the estate management on a certain occasion locked the estate gate to check those who had not paid the service charge.

The matter suffered several adjustments and delay until last year when parties adopted their final written addresses and judgment was delivered.

In his written address, counsel to the claimants, Adeyinka Aderemi urged the court to granted the 10 relief sought by his clients and restrain CMB from further imposing service charges or reticulation fees on them.

On his part, counsel to the defendants, R.A Aladesanmi urged the court to discountenance the prayers of the claimants and uphold the clients right to levy the homeowners for service provided for them.

In a well considered judgment delivered in 2021 but which Certified True Copy (CTC) got to The Guardian recently, Justice Muftau Olokoba amongst other things, upheld the right of CMB to fix service charges for homeowners, who had signed the sale and management agreement terms.

The judge held: “No doubt the 2nd defendant, CMB are entitled to collect service charge and the residents/homeowners are bound to pay service charge as stated in the Sale and Management Agreement.

“The way and manner the 2nd defendant, in collusion with the security men and men of the Police force, went about recovering payment for services rendered by the 2nd defendant must be discouraged. There should be a more civil, decent and lawful method the 2nd defendant could employ to recover payment.

“Payment for an agreed service rendered is necessary to sustain the procurement of the services. The court is of the firm view that the residents/homeowners must pay service charge as contained in the contract agreement. The rate of the service charge should however be a subject for agreement between parties.

“Worthy of note is the fact that none of the claimants had paid the service charge, not even the N12, 500, which was suggested by the homeowners. Also, no material evidence was tendered in court to show that any of the claimants paid the reticulation fee. Although PW2 stated under cross-examination that his tenants paid service charge, there was no evidence tendered to show payment.

“The claimants not having completed the act of paying for both service and reticulation charges cannot be availed of this particular order.”

The judge further said for the members of the Estate to have entered into agreement to pay charges for maintaining the estate, they cannot resile.

“On the other hand, the service providers cannot unilaterally impose charges not captured in the agreement. Parties must resolve the issues amicably by coming to a consensus. For this reason, the relief of injunction cannot be granted,” the judge held.”

On the allegation of intimidation and harassment of homeowners, the court declared that the interference and infringement on the claimants’ rights by barricade and restriction of movement of residents and homeowners in and out of the estate by the defendants and their agents were unlawful.