Property owners, developers, demolition, and 90 day-grace for building permit

By Maduka Nweke, manweke@gmail.com

One of the most devastating issues in the real estate industry is the collapse and demolition of buildings. These events not only lead to significant financial losses but also result in the tragic loss of lives, leaving many families in enduring grief. The trauma can be so profound that some individuals never recover, while others may resort to desperate measures for survival.

In recent months, the Lagos State government has embarked on a controversial and widely-discussed mission: the demolition of houses in the upscale area of Lekki. This initiative has sparked significant public debate, raising questions and concerns about the true motives behind such a sweeping urban transformation. The government justifies these actions by citing breaches of building setback laws, which are legal requirements dictating the minimum distance between a building and property boundaries or public infrastructure like roads and drainage systems. These setbacks are intended to ensure safety, environmental protection, and orderly urban development. Another frequent issue is construction in areas designated by the government for specific public projects. Violations of these regulations can lead to severe problems, ultimately necessitating demolition.

Key reasons for enforcing building setback laws include environmental concerns. For instance, Lekki is prone to flooding and other environmental challenges. The government has highlighted these issues as reasons for the demolitions, aiming to improve drainage systems and reduce the flooding risk that has historically plagued the area.

Safety is another critical factor. Building setbacks ensure sufficient space between structures to prevent potential hazards. Violating these regulations can lead to unsafe conditions, increasing the risk of accidents like fires or collapses, especially in densely populated areas. Traffic congestion is also a concern, as buildings encroaching on road setbacks can impede traffic flow, cause congestion, and hinder emergency services, posing significant risks during emergencies.

The impact on drainage and flooding is another major issue. In a coastal city like Lagos, heavy rainfall can exacerbate flooding problems. Buildings sited too close to drainage systems can obstruct water flow, leading to flooding. The government often takes action to mitigate these risks, which can include demolishing buildings blocking drainage paths. Setback regulations also maintain the visual aesthetics and architectural integrity of a city. Buildings too close to roads or property boundaries can create a crowded and unattractive urban environment.

Building setbacks are enshrined in local laws and regulations, and property owners and developers must adhere to these rules. Non-compliance can result in legal actions, fines, and ultimately, demolition if property owners fail to rectify the violations. In Lagos, the government and relevant authorities take the enforcement of these laws seriously, regularly conducting inspections to identify violators. Demolition is a last resort, used when property owners do not cooperate in rectifying violations or when violations pose significant safety and environmental risks.

In light of these issues, the Lagos State Government recently granted a 90-day grace period for building owners without permits to regularize their status with state authorities. The state government has reiterated that it will demolish buildings without approvals after the expiration of this amnesty window.

This announcement was made by Mr. Olaoye Olusegun, Director of the Public Affairs Unit of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), quoting Dr. Olajide Babatunde, Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on e-GIS and Urban Development, during a workshop titled ā€œUnderstanding Building Control in Lagos State.ā€ The workshop aimed to address various issues and misconceptions regarding the agencyā€™s activities. Dr. Babatunde emphasized the importance of obtaining certifications and having insurance coverage in the construction industry. He stressed that every building in the state should have a certificate of completion and fitness for habitation, as well as an insurance policy to provide support during emergencies like fires.

As a step towards reducing building collapse in the state, Dr. Babatunde noted that no building should be occupied without the Certificate of Completion and Fitness for Habitation issued by the State Building Control Agency, renewable every five years. He also emphasized the governorā€™s instructions for owners to promptly remove unauthorized attachments to buildings, which impede rescue operations during emergencies. The Lagos State Building Control Agency has proactively notified owners about demolishing distressed buildings, publishing lists of such structures in national newspapers.

The General Manager of LASBCA, Mr. Gbolahan Oki, urged building owners to adhere to regulations governing the construction industry, emphasizing that compliance is cost-effective. After the governorā€™s amnesty period, LASBCA will require documentation such as certificates of fitness and habitation, proof of meeting requirements, and building insurance. He advised developers to construct buildings according to approved specifications and permits.

Insurance consultant Mr. Yemi Solajoye stressed the need for all buildings to have insurance coverage against disasters like building collapse or fire outbreaks, calling for mandatory enforcement of insurance coverage. Mr. Fuad Oki, a retired Director General of the Lagos State Safety Commission, advocated for increased public engagement at grassroots levels where violations are common. The Lagos State Ministry of Environment and Water Resources commenced the demolition of buildings erected on drainages in April, after the expiration of notices given to property owners.

However, the public has questioned why the state government allows buildings to be erected, occupied, and inhabited before taking demolition action, causing significant hardship to the affected people.

The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) has also warned investors to conduct due diligence before investing in land, especially in the Festac environs, to avoid losses. Umar Lawal, South West Assistant General Manager/Zonal Head, Survey and Mapping, urged Lagos residents to shun land grabbers and touts. He emphasized the need for requisite approvals before construction, noting that demolition will always affect buildings with irredeemable physical planning infractions or Right of Way (RoW) encroachments. He advised residents to purchase land only after thorough searches with the FHA and state government to avoid land grabbersā€™ traps.

Despite the governmentā€™s reliance on demolition, experts argue that it contradicts efforts to reduce the housing deficit. Mr. Hakeem Oguniran, CEO of Eximia Realty Company Limited, stated that demolitions result in economic leakage and undermine efforts to make housing affordable. As Chairman of Lagos State Building and Investment (LSBIC), he emphasized the importance of regulation and transparency in promoting real estate growth. He called for strict guidelines and standards to ensure compliance with ethical practices and legal requirements, fostering trust among stakeholders.

Mr. Oguniran highlighted the role of regulation in establishing a framework for aligning interests in the real estate value chain, setting standards for compliance, and instituting penalties for breaches. Regulation is crucial for implementing laws, enforcing industry standards, resolving disputes, and preserving partiesā€™ rights in the real estate ecosystem.

Recently, the Lagos State government noted that 80% of buildings in Ibeju-Lekki have no approval, raising concerns about effective monitoring and enforcement of building regulations. Ibeju-Lekki, home to the Lekki Free Trade Zone and the Dangote refinery, is a beacon for real estate investors. The Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development (PPUD), Oluyinka Olumide, revealed that these buildings had been marked for demolition, as the area is zoned for agricultural use.

While the commissioner highlighted the lack of approvals, he did not disclose the number of buildings affected. This situation underscores the need for robust data and effective monitoring by state authorities. The Ibeju-Lekki revelation is one among many instances of sharp practices leading to demolitions across Lagos, including Festac, Okota, Lagos Island, and other areas.

In conclusion, the ongoing issues of building collapse and demolition in Lagos highlight the critical need for strict adherence to building regulations, comprehensive monitoring by authorities, and transparent regulatory frameworks to ensure safe and sustainable urban development.

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