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Neighbourhood shops: A case of different strokes

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For reasons ranging from space constraint to increasing housing challenges and not the least, commercial consideration, some landlords in Lagos are turning their residential homes into shops and kiosks. These are usually located either in front or at the corner of the houses or any other available space in the frontage.

Although it is now becoming quite common, this development is more pronounced in medium and low-income neighbourhoods. In such cases, the property owners either pull down the fences of their building for more space to build the shops or attach pavilions to the walls and rent them out to small-scale business owners.

Oftentimes, these additions make it impossible for tenants to park their vehicles in the compound, thus leaving their tenants with no other option than to park on the streets at their own risk or park elsewhere outside their vicinities.

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Although, this is against the new Lagos State Physical Planning Permit and Building Control Regulations 2019, which mandate property owners to take permission from relevant authorities before carrying out any work in their buildings, these landlords appear unperturbed. They carry on with their actions as if there is nothing to it or that it is legal. On its part, government equally seems unconcerned, as there has not been any noticeable attempt to check these projects, which are going on unhindered.

And while some Lagosians see this development as disrupting the smart city vision of the state, others see it as a welcome development, especially as they provide avenues for cottage businesses to thrive, just as they create jobs for school leavers.

Going around the city, The Guardian discovered that this trend has come to stay. For starters, since the landlords are making money through this means, the likelihood of abandoning such a lucrative venture is slim. That there is equally no shortage of interested tenants is another factor that attests to the fact that this trend will continue for a long time.

Isaac Ishola, General Secretary, Ifesowapo Community in Surulere, Lagos, explained that the shops serve to fill the vacuum created by shortage in the open markets. Also, they have become a steady source of income for many landlords, who depend on payment from the rent to sustain themselves and their families.

Ishola disclosed that some of the shops attract as much as N1m per year. “Imagine a landlord having five or six of such shops. That will be bringing in big money. Mind you, many of them hardly get half of that sum as pensions or retirement benefits,” he said.

Aside from this, he noted that the shops serve as some sort of convenient markets, as operators open early and stay till late at night. This, he said, is a service to the people in the community, especially for those that do not have the time to shop on weekends.

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Ishola also revealed that some of the landlords use the shops to fully occupy their land and check trespassers, as well as chase away artisans that are not putting the space in their frontages to good use.

According to him, the shops have some social benefits, as they help in making an area busy, popular and accessible from any part of the city, even with the bad roads. He noted that these social benefits contribute to the increase in rent and people’s willingness to live in such areas.

For Johnson Adeleke, Public Relations Officer, Peace Estate, Ayobo, the shops will continue to spring up because, aside the money they generate for their owners, the tenants contribute to the development of the area in terms of helping to finance such essential projects as procuring a transformer, constructing of drainages and link bridges, as well as other self-help projects, which will be a mirage, if the landlords/tenants association depend solely on local or state government to do.

“Which local council administrator will you run to for money to repair a damaged transformer or buy electric poles,” he queried. “None. But with these commercial shops, it becomes easier to raise funds and do some other necessary things. So, they are serving multiple roles.”

But while the property owners are taking advantage of the situation and making money, some Lagosians are calling on the state government to take control and sanitise the environment. To them, many of the shops are contributing to the nuisance on the road, as the landlords don’t make provision for parking space, where customers can leave their vehicles, while making a purchase.

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According to Sule Oyekanmi, a lawyer and public servant, the activities of some of the shop owners obstruct the free flow of traffic, thereby contributing to the stress being experienced by motorists and other road users. By sometimes, extending their shops close to the road and displaying their wares on the roadside too, with their customers parking indiscriminately along the road, untold hardship is often created by the shop owners.

Oyekanmi was particularly bothered by the tendency of some shop owners, especially those who run restaurants, to encroach on the area meant to serve as sidewalks or curbs, resulting in pedestrians not having much space to use.

“This is an infringement that relevant authorities should check before things get out of hand.” He disclosed that some of them dump their refuse randomly and even in the drainage, which blocks the gutters.

“Globally, most countries have city plans, rules and regulations on how buildings should be constructed and even their maintenance plan. I think this should also apply here. Since the local council grants these landlords permission to add some attachments to their buildings, they should also ensure that this is done under the law. Tenants too should not contravene the law. The relevant authorities should be up and doing.

Narrating how the trend is affecting his community, Gideon Otalor, a baker, said the shops put pressure on existing social facilities, stressing that many of the landlords build the shops without expanding existing facilities in their compounds or even in the community.

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He said: “For instance, the transformer that supplies electricity to my community now goes off intermittently, due to the pressure on it,” he said. “I have also observed that the gutters are now blocked and reeking with the water spilling to the road. This was not experienced in my community before the shops and other commercial facilities started springing up.

“Some of the tenants may be using heavy equipment in their shops that are tripping off the transformer. Besides, many of the shops were constructed without putting the electricity board officials in the know. As such, the problem will persist until the needful is done.”

An estate developer, who spoke to The Guardian on the condition of anonymity, said most of the shops are illegal structures, as they were not in the original plan of the main buildings. So, government is at liberty to demolish them.

“They obstruct city plans and have contributed to garages springing up overnight in some communities because the commercial vehicles operators have to service them. I think government should strictly apply the city rules and ban commercial activities in areas designated as residential,” he said.

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