Meridian Park 2 Homeowners Tackle Lekki Gardens Over Cost of Services

0

Residents of Meridian Park 2, also known as Lekki Gardens Phase V, have all manner of grievances against the developer of their estate, Lekki Gardens Ltd., but on top of it all are disagreements over the cost of services and an unexpected N300,000 charge to connect them to the estate’s electricity generating set, which they argue was not what the developer told them it meant when they said residents would enjoy electricity 24 hours of the day, all year round. Bennett Oghifo writes

Residents of Lekki Gardens V say they are shocked at the developer’s actions, which they said puts profit ahead of their humanity. Lekki Gardens denies this, stating that they are applying a model that they believe would be sustainable and would serve the residents better after they relinquished the management of the estate to the residents.

Lekki Gardens is a successful developer, who gave other developers a bit of a scare with his sales model, until that unfortunate collapse of a block of flats under construction in one of his estates slowed him down in the Lagos market.

Lekki Gardens Phase V is one of such success stories. It is located behind Abraham Adesanya Estate, less than five hundred metres from Lekki Gardens Phase IV. Homes in Phase V are roll houses or Terrace duplexes that were sold as Shell homes that the prospective owners are expected to complete to their taste, at their pace. They were also promised 24/7 electricity, clean water, efficient services, beautiful environment and the works. They took the bait and bought their homes, but said that, regrettably, it took two to three years after the agreed date of home transfer for them to get their keys. “I forced my way in after my rent expired where I lived because I didn’t want to renew it,” said the Chairman of the Residents Association, Jerry Cisse, when THISDAY visited the estate recently. “After I moved in, I ran my generator for a year, built my own septic tank, and drilled a borehole, which they tried to get the police to stop, because they said it was contrary to their policy.”

Cisse, who had with him the General Secretary of the association, Ladi Fashura and the Assistant General Secretary, Onuwa Phillip, said even if they had promised to give him a tanker of water daily, “I would not take that hook line and sinker, because of your perennial attitude of failed promises.” The residents had seen too many red flags in their dealings with the developer to trust any promise they made.

He was the third person to move into the estate, but now there are 38 families resident in there. They have a residents’ association that is negotiating with Lekki Gardens on what to pay for services. At their last meeting, the residents said they would pay N25,000 per month/quarterly but the developer was asking for N27,000/annum and, while they were at this, the developer came up with a N300,000 per home charge to connect them to the estate’s electricity generators – 175KVA and 60KVA.

The residents found this charge unbearable and reacted. “We were still debating this when they sent a letter that each home should pay N300,000 as fee to connect to the generator, and that this charge was renewable every five years. We replied reminding them that they promised to give us electricity and they said their generator was coming.”

Lekki Gardens brought the generators- 175 KVA and 60KVA – and promised to increase the capacity as the estate’s residency increased. “We disagreed with them and this became a second major issue, apart from that of fee for services which include, water treatment, security, central sewage system, maintenance of common areas, street lights, waste collection and disposal and hiring of a facility manager who will ensure that these services work properly.

“Before now, they had sent us a letter to pay N115,000 per home for meter and N25,000 to connect the meter.”

The association said the N300,000 charged them was intended to make residents pay for the generators. “He knows he would be pushed out eventually and is now saying rather than me buying this generator. It is being done to preempt that event. It’s not nice, it’s not normal and it is left to the residents to decide if that is their preferred approach. In the next few months, what we think is an aberration will become the new norm,” chipped in the General Secretary of the Association, Ladi Fashura. “We pushed back because it is not right to just wake up and impose new fee, but we suspect that some people are beginning to pay, especially the new people moving into the estate, who are not aware of our push back. Lekki Gardens included it in the fee they should pay before being handed keys to their homes.

“We didn’t pay for these homes because we cannot use the money to buy elsewhere, we paid for community where you can have like-minded people come together to build something that hopefully will be a standard, as they say in the other estates, a demonstration that things can work in Nigeria, and then you have a developer coming to try and run our lives.”

The residents said the generator was one of the assets promised them, “because in every document we had there was promise of electricity and that we shouldn’t bring our generators.”

The residents are expected to pay another amount of money as connection fee after five years, according to what they said Lekki Gardens told them in letter, and that they were informed that the money was for asset recovery.

However, they told the developer, “the generator is yours but electricity is the service that is promised us.” While the debate was on, they said Lekki Gardens came to remove the generators but that they pleaded with the wives at home when they came that Monday morning to use their cars to barricade the estate gate. It worked and, at the end of the arguments that ensued, the generators were reinstalled for use in the estate.

The way forward, according to the association, “is that of mutual respect towards delivery of promises made and that will be mutually beneficial, because they will look back and say this is an asset we have delivered and they can get more business from it, and we will get to live in an asset that is worth the money we’ve spent on it that will continue to appreciate. Until we get to that place where it’s not money first but people first, we will probably continue to have this conflict.”

The residents said they are leaving all options open to address the issues at stake, including approaching the court, but that they intend to explore sensible dialogue first.

Lekki Gardens’ response

A senior official of Lekki Gardens, Mr. Akin Romeo told THISDAY on telephone that they were aware of complains of the residents at Phase V but that they did not take decisions unilaterally, as the association claimed.

He confirmed that both parties discussed the issue of service fee but were yet to agree on an amount. “The truth is that when you live in a serviced estate, you pay for services. Number two, the issue of generators, generators are never part of infrastructure delivery. When we say power, we talk about connecting the estate to the national grid, but we recognise that when you have connected the estate to the national grid, the power you will get from the national grid will never be enough and you have to make provision for alternative source of power.

“Our model is very simple; it’s a model we have worked on and we have seen that this is the best model. That is a model that allows homeowners to contribute towards purchasing and owning their generators and it is sustainable in the sense that when you have 10 people living in an estate, give it another year, there will be 50 people living in that estate. So, if you buy a generator today that can serve 10 people, I can assure you that when they are 50, the generator will not be able to serve them.”

According to Romeo, “Contribution to generator allows us to upgrade as occupancy rate increases in the estate. And, of course, the generator will be owned by the homeowners. So, even if a subsidiary of Lekki Gardens today is providing power to them, if they are not satisfied with the service, tomorrow they can say sorry, thank you for providing this service, but we think we need someone else to provide the service, but because the generator belongs to them, nobody will take the generator away. So, it will be a situation where you just change service provider but your asset remains, because you have contributed towards purchasing the asset.”

He said that was the conversation they were having with the association. “That we will provide this generator and then as people move in, they will be contributing and for those who have moved in already, you contribute towards owning this generator.”

He said the conversation was misunderstood, stating that it was only if there is a central generator that they can power common facilities like the street lights, and water treatment plant. “We allowed them to see the beauty the generator can bring to the estate in December last year when we connected it and fueled it for a week for them to use free of charge.”

He said, “Unfortunately, they misunderstood it all, and when they refused to pay for generator contribution, we had no choice but to say okay, if they are not willing to pay it then means they want to provide this service by themselves. Of course, there are other locations where we require our assets and then we said our asset should be removed, and that was what now led to the confrontation. But, eventually, reason prevailed and we sat down together, we reviewed the entire scenario and we have since been able to resolve the matter.

“We have said we bought the generator with the premise that you will contribute to the ownership. There is no way we will start collecting money from you to defray the cost of the generator and at the end of the day we then lay claim to the ownership.”

He also talked about the cost of the generator, which the association raised earlier, saying “We sat with them to discuss this, and when they said they did not understand this model, we sent them documentation on how it works. We have said this is the cost of the generator, as it were, but it is a sustainable plan that we have put in place. Yes, the generator would cost about N14 million or N15 million to deploy, but when everybody pays, we see a situation where it could rise up to N50 million or N60 million in another two or three years, but we are saying your current occupancy is about 40 homeowners and you’re running on 175KVA, by the time you’re 60 175KVA will not power your estate. By the time you’re 100 and you buy 200KVA, it will not be adequate. So, we are saying this is a pool of funds. Yes, the initial capital, we will take our money, and as people contribute, it will afford us the opportunity to be able to upgrade, and it is supposed to be a contribution that is over three to five years, so that at the end of five years or four years, depending on the growth of the estate, we may have to contribute again to be able to buy a higher capacity generator.”

He insisted that it was a sustainable plan, adding “Lekki Gardens will not always be there. A time will come that they will be self-dependent and be able to do that by themselves. We have had the conversation that if they want the money to be domiciled with us, then that is fine, if you don’t want it, then the moment we receive the amount that is equal to the amount that we have invested initially, then of course we will transfer the funds to you and then you’ll now begin to collect it and begin to manage that process. We have been very upfront and straight forward with them on this matter.”

He said they had sent a revised template on the monthly service charge to the residents’ association and that they ought to get back to the developer. “We are prepared to work with them on quarterly basis,” he said and that the charge was expected to reduce as more people moved into the estate. “We are not here to take anything that does not belong to us from anybody. The budget has been made available to them, they can look at it and it is the cost of providing the service. It is the model we use in running all our estates; there is nothing different that we are doing in Phase V that we are not doing in any other estate where we are managing the facility.”