Abuja’s costly, unoccupied houses

By: Usman A. Bello

As the cost of housing continues to rise in Abuja, so also the presence of exotic houses, both completed and uncompleted all over the city. Many of these houses have one thing in common: they’re empty.

Abuja is described as one of the fastest-growing cities in the world and also counted among the most expensive cities in Africa, especially in terms of housing. The city, located in the center of the country, attracts residents from far and near. Insecurity also accounts for the influx of people. A visit to some of the houses and estates in high-brow areas like Asokoro, Gwarinpa, Maitama, , Wuse II, Utako, Katampe districts among others by Daily Trust revealed that many houses are unoccupied years after completion as a result of the high cost of renting or leasing.

Houses and estates in Apo, Dei-Dei, Gwarimpa, Lugbe, Kubwa, Gwarimpa , Gudu, Life Camp, Gaduwa are also unoccupied. It was learnt that many of the buildings are owned by public officials, politicians and wealthy businessmen who embark on housing construction in order to avoid anti-graft agencies’ searchlights. It was also learnt that some of these housing units are covertly leased out by guards who often collected monthly rent from desperate accommodation-seekers, as the owners hardly check on their property.

It was gathered that, regularly, rent for a four-bedroom bungalow in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Utako and Garki goes between N3m and N6m a year, while those who wish to occupy the same types of apartments in satellite towns like Gwarinpa, Kubwa, Lugbe and Karu, among others, must cough out between N800,000 and N1.5m in some estates.

An estate surveyor and valuer, Udosen Warsaw, told our reporter that it costs between N2.5 million and N3 million to rent a two-bed apartment in areas such as Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse II. One-bed room apartment costs between N1 million and N1.5 million and three-bedroom apartments cost between N3 million and N6 million per annum depending on the finishing, location and security of the area.

An estate agent, Jimoh Abraham, said houses are empty either because the developers or owners declined offers to sell or rent due to what they always consider as low offers, or interested parties are reluctant to make offers due to the notion that they are well-beyond their reach.

According to him, the prices should be down to an affordable level so as to get the expected returns immediately rather than leave the houses to lay fallow, without occupants, saying that the refusal to lease the houses suggest they are products illicit deals. He said most of the owners are afraid of being prosecuted, and instead of lodging money in a bank, they tie it to property where it cannot be traced to them, nor discovered by government.

But another estate agent, Idris Aigamhe, believes that the high price tags on houses in the highbrow areas is responsible for the many unoccupied houses there. “A two-bedroom apartment goes for over N2 million annually depending on the area within the town. With such price, how many people can afford such an amount? And owners of such houses don’t even care whether they are occupied or not because they have more than enough,” he said.

According to Aigamhe, as long as the houses or estates are beyond the reach of the common man, they will continue to be unoccupied.

Former Vice President of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Kabir Mohammed Kabir Olayiwola said houses in Abuja are capitalized in nature and located in less-populated areas where wealthy people live. He explained that most of these unoccupied houses were built for commercial purposes in anticipation that government officials or government parastatals and private companies would come and rent them at whatever price.

Aigamhe said as a result of the development, lots of people move to the suburbs like Suleja, Gwagwalada, Nyanya, Mararaba, Dutse among others because they cannot afford houses in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse and others. “Because of this development, they have been mounting pressure on the government to introduce property tax in FCT so that the owners of such houses will decide whether to stay in or sell them or give them to those who want to rent at affordable price. The tax, apart from forcing homeowners to rent out houses, will help government earn revenue,” he said.

According to him, the government should carry out head count to know the population as well as the houses that are not occupied, identify who owns them, saying that any house which nobody comes to claim should be taken over by the government as idle houses. The president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Dr Ayuba Wabba recently urged the Federal Government to impose property tax on the unoccupied Abuja houses built with money allegedly stolen by public officers.

Wabba said that the NLC would continue to advocate the enforcement of property tax especially in Abuja because most of the buildings are beyond the reach of the common man. He said: “Most of the property are empty and some of them are beyond the reach of the common man. Instead of this issue of increasing VAT, which is going to further suppress the people that are already at the bottom of the ladder, maybe the best thing for now, Abuja as a starting point, is to impose property tax, especially on those very big mansions.”

According to Wabba, efforts to introduce property tax is being frustrated by the ruling elite who have used stolen public funds to buy plots of land and build houses which they leave unoccupied. He also advised that the property tax should be charged according to the size and location of such houses.

During the 7th National Assembly, Senator Smart Adeyemi proposed a bill seeking to regulate the relationship between landlords and tenants as well as make provision for rent control in the FCT, but it was not passed before the close of the assembly. “Someone needs to dust up that bill and present it again,” said Hajiya Aisha Yusuf, a tenant who told Daily Trust that she spends way too much on rent. “As it is, most of our earnings go to our landlordit shouldn’t be so,” she concluded.

SOURCE: WEEKLY TRUST

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