Citizen is a column that explains how the government’s policies fucks citizens and how we can unfuck ourselves.
There are some problems many Nigerians face when renting a place in Nigeria. One is the cost of rent, finding a suitable place within one’s budget, finding a fair and unproblematic house owner, and most common being the right ethnicity the house owners might be willing to rent a house to. The issue of house owners in Nigeria refusing to rent out to people of a particular Nigerian tribe or ethnicity is a problem that greatly affects Nigerians yet hasn’t received ample attention from the government.
Below, 6 Nigerians share their experiences with being denied the chance to rent because of their ethnicity.
In January of this year, my friend and I decided to get a place together. We were both experiencing new beginnings, so we needed a new space. We started the search online, the usual real estate sites, contacting agents, etc. So I found this apartment in Surulere and contacted the agent. It had been let already but he said he had something similar. I asked for pictures but he said he didn’t have any, I’d have to come for an inspection. I was okay with that so I asked when I could come, and the answer I got was ‘They don’t want Igbo’. I’m not Igbo but my friend is. I love and speak Igbo too. I was so upset and it hadn’t occurred to me, until then that ethnicity could even be criteria. I forwarded the conversation to my friend and she just laughed. I, on the other hand, was of the opinion that all of them–including the land the house was built on–are mad! Because what nonsense? I just told the agent ‘okay’ and moved on to someone else.
So, around 2019, I was trying to change my apartment in school. My school has limited hostel facilities and more than 80% of the students live off-campus, myself inclusive. My former place had water issues and the house-owner decided to look away after collecting rent, that was why I went looking for another place. I eventually found a perfect fit; it had good amenities and was close to my school. The house-owner was almost talking about when I can inspect the room when she randomly asked where I was from. I said “Ondo”. Now, my school is in Ondo state and most people often forget that there is a place inside Ondo State called Ondo town. So, she asked ” where in Ondo” and I responded with “Ondo town, itself”. She said she doesn’t like Ondo people. I decided to be a nice girl and ask why she said that trying to change her mind because I desperately needed the house. She went further with “Ondo people are gossips, not nice, rude, they will be plotting against her, etc” I wasn’t buying it. The second day, I came back to the house again to meet her and asked the question again, mummy later confessed. Apparently, her daughter once dated an Ondo man and according to her, she took the dude in question as her son. When the said dude got to NYSC, he broke up with her daughter. She never gave me that house. Basically punished me for the sins of a stranger I don’t know. It wasn’t until 2020 that I finally found a new apartment
Where do I start? I moved to Lagos after I got a job in late 2018, so naturally, I had to look for a house after a couple of months. I paid an agent and we started searching. We found a couple of houses but they were too old for my liking, I was using Abuja standard to look for a house in Lagos, mumu. After two weeks of leaving the office during lunch break, and trekking under the sun to check out houses, we finally found a fairly-new and decent-looking mini flat. I was ready to pay on the spot, you know but we had to first get across to the landlord. I got credit for the agent and he spoke with the landlord, and the first thing the landlord asked was, “Is he Yoruba? I only rent my house to Yoruba people.” Yo, I was confused. Like, why is this a requirement? Is it so that he’s able to communicate properly? But he asked in English. I tried so hard to rationalise it but it didn’t make sense. The agent wanted me to claim I was Yoruba but I refused. It pained me but we had to keep looking.
In 2018, while my dad and I were looking for vacant houses around Unilag, we saw one we liked but the day we went with the agent, the landlord wasn’t around so we couldn’t finalize everything that day. Only for the agent to call us later to tell us the house-owner doesn’t want Igbos in his house. We didn’t even bother to ask why.
I needed to rent a place closer to my office. I approached an agent who took me to a beautiful block of flats. The compound has two-bedroom flats, 1 bedroom flats and self contain apartments. I love the 1 bedroom flat and wanted to pay. The owner of the compound refused. He is a northerner and he told the agent he doesn’t want a single lady in his compound. After almost two weeks of back and forth, he eventually accepted for me to take the self-contain apartment. Because I like the compound, I decided to take it. only for me to get there to pay, he asked about my ethnicity and I said Igbo, he lost it and practically chased me and the agent out, shouting that he will never rent to an Igbo person. All this happened just yesterday.
I was looking for a house for almost 6months until I finally found one last year. When I went with the agent to see the house-owner we really bonded when I told her I was a medical doctor. I felt God had finally answered my prayers, it was exactly what I was looking for. As I was about leaving she asked me to write down my number because her phone battery was dead and when she saw my name next to the number, she screamed “Iro o” meaning No or God forbid in Yoruba. Apparently all the while I have been introducing myself as” Dr. Chinua” she was actually hearing “Dr. Sina”
She started screaming at the agent and telling him she doesn’t want “Omo Igbo” I was so disappointed, this is a lady that practically loved everything about me until she got to know my ethnicity. I couldn’t believe that this was still possible in present-day Nigeria. And the funny thing is that the woman is a retired teacher so she is definitely educated. But this means that I still haven’t found a place and have to live with my parents until I do.