Many landlords in Nigeria suspect single women of being prostitutes, making it difficult for them to rent apartments.
A successful career woman, Olufunmilola Ogungbile, 30, never thought that she would be sleeping on a friend’s couch after five months of apartment-hunting in Abeokuta city in south-western Nigeria.
She had moved from Lagos after securing a good job with the Ogun state government as a project administrator. Despite being financially independent, she struggled to find an apartment in middle and upmarket areas because she was single.
“The first question the landlord would ask me is if I’m married?” Ms Ogungbile said, “I’d say ‘No’, and they’d follow with, ‘Why not’?”
She was often left puzzled.
“What does my marital status have to do with me getting a place to live in?”
‘We want decent people’
Ms Ogungbile said the discrimination was widespread.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the landlords I met did not want to rent to me because I am a single woman,” she told the BBC.
“Most landlords and agents would tell me, ‘Can you bring your boyfriend or your husband?’ In these kinds of apartments, we don’t like boys coming in. We just want decent people.”
Ms Ogungbile believes the hurdles she faced are down to cultural expectations – marriage is a benchmark used to measure decency.
“In this part of the world, if you are not married then you are a prostitute,” she added.
Sylvia Oyinda – a product manager in the retail sector in Lagos, Nigeria’s throbbing metropolis – agrees that the stigma makes it difficult for single women to rent in Nigeria.
Ms Oyinda, 31, was engaged when she started looking for an apartment. Landlords refused to meet her without her fiancé.
“There is a saying ‘small girl, big god’ that describes young single women who rent alone or squat with other females.
“The saying refers to single women who have sponsors, typically older men, who pay their rent,” she said.
‘Men have more money’
Ms Oyinda believes landlords assume most young single women are like this.
“The three landlords I met all refused to show me their apartments. They would tell me, ‘Don’t bother.'”
Out of frustration she stopped scouting on her own. On the fourth attempt, she went with her partner, to whom she is now married, and was taken seriously. The couple eventually settled for a four-bedroom flat in the high-end area of Lekki.
“Part of fighting the stigma was me refusing to bring a partner because that was part of the criteria before they would hand me the key”
Coleman Nwafor, a landlord and property owner, said he does not discriminate, but most of his tenants and buyers are men because they have more money.
“Most single ladies are under the responsibility of their parents or a lover. You can never tell what will happen after the first year. And every landlord wants a tenant who will pay without stress and renew their contract once it expires,” he told the BBC.
“Most single ladies are not working. There are more jobs for men than women in Nigeria. That is just the way it is.”
‘Landlords try to police women’
Yinka Oladiran, 25, who moved from New York to Lagos in May 2016 to pursue a career as a TV presenter, said she lived independently in the US and wanted to maintain her freedom in Nigeria.
She also wanted to reduce a three-hour commute to work from her father’s home, but she could not rent an apartment without her father giving his consent to landlords.
“There were landlords who said they did not want to rent to me until they had spoken to my father to make sure that he was OK with it, even though I was paying with my own money,” Ms Oladiran told the BBC.
“My opinion didn’t matter. The landlords try to police women,” she added.
After searching independently for more than six months, she finally got an apartment in April 2017.
However, she said she felt constantly undermined by security staff, especially when she came home late from work, as they often asked her who she was visiting.
“For that to even happen over and over again was very insulting,” Ms Oladiran said.
As for Ms Ogungbile, her five-month hunt ended last week when she finally moved into a studio flat.
She said she secured it through a letting agency which focused on her income rather than her gender or marital status.
The 30-year-old, who is now excited about painting her new home in her favourite colours – purple and lilac – believes she fought back against discrimination in her own little way.
“Part of fighting the stigma was me refusing to bring a spouse or a partner because that was part of the criteria before they would hand me the keys,” she said.