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Consumer Watch: Rental housing issues? This is what the law says

Having the keys to a rental property comes with laws and rules. Picture: Pixabay

Having the keys to a rental property comes with laws and rules. Picture: Pixabay

Published Feb 25, 2021

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There’s never a dull moment for a journalist. And when it comes to rental housing disputes, arguments between landlords and tenants, tenants and agents, or tenants and their neighours; take some nasty turns.

Take for instance the tenant who complains about his landlord removing the roof over his head, to “smoke” him out after not paying rent. Or the single tenant who complains about her landlord “spying” on her and dropping by unannounced. Then there are those who hoodwinked their unworldly elderly landlords into accepting them as tenants, without paying a deposit and then squatting for months on end without any rental payments.

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Here are a few guidelines for landlords and tenants to maintain a harmonious relationship:

Tenants – pay your rent on time

If your lease agreement says you need to pay by the first of the month, you need to pay your rent in full and on time. There’s no seven-day grace period – unless expressly agreed upon between the landlord and the tenant.

Failure to pay on the due date or that which is agreed constitutes a breach of your lease and it can be cancelled. Specialist credit bureau TPN advises landlords to act early with a non-paying tenant.

“Any delay in starting the process of collecting arrears will only lengthen the time the tenant can sit ‘unpaid’ in the property to beyond a calendar month which is generally the funds available in the deposit.”

Landlords – you can’t “smoke” out your tenant

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A tenant cannot be evicted from their residence – or have their home demolished – without an eviction order obtained from a court. Arbitrary eviction is illegal. Leases giving landlords the right to remove tenants without following legal processes are illegal. The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE) Act sets out the procedures landlords must follow.

The Rental Housing Act gives the landlord the right to terminate the lease and inform the tenant they must move out of a residence by a certain date, but the landlord can only do so if the lease was cancelled fairly and if the reason for cancellation is specified in the lease. But the landlord still has to approach the court for permission to evict the tenant.

During Covid-19, you can’t evict

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Under the Disaster Management Act, tenants can’t be legally evicted. A court may grant an eviction order but it is likely to suspend it until the national state of disaster lapses. The court will consider the following:

(a) The need, in the public interest for all persons to have access to a place of residence and basic services to protect their health and the health of others and to avoid unnecessary movement and gathering with other persons.

(b) Any restrictions on movement or other relevant restrictions in place at the relevant time in terms of these regulations.

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(c) The impact of the disaster on the parties.

(d) The prejudice to any party of a delay in executing the order and whether such prejudice outweighs the prejudice of the persons who will be subject to the order.

(e) Whether any affected person has been prejudiced in their ability to access legal services as a result of the disaster.

(f) Whether affected persons will have immediate access to an alternative place of residence and basic services.

(g) Whether adequate measures are in place to protect the health of any person in the process of a relocation.

(h) Whether any occupier is causing harm to others or there is a threat to life.

(i) Whether the party applying for such an order has taken reasonable steps in good faith, to make alternative arrangements with all affected persons, including but not limited to payment arrangements that would preclude the need for any relocation during the national state of disaster.

Rental Housing Tribunals can assist to restore harmony

The Rental Housing Tribunals, which operate in major centres in every province, may grant urgent spoliation orders – including to restore a tenant’s occupation of a dwelling or access to services.

The following conduct is presumed to be an unfair practice in terms of the Rental Housing Act and the disaster regulations:

(a) Terminating water or electricity services if the landlord failed to provide reasonable notice and an opportunity to make representations. It is unconstitutional to deprive anyone of water.

(b) Imposing any penalty, other than interest, for late payment of rental where the default is caused by the national state of disaster.

(d) Any other conduct prejudicing the occupancy of a place of residence, prejudicing the health of any person or prejudicing the ability of any person to comply with the applicable restrictions on movement that is unreasonable or oppressive having regard to the prevailing circumstances. – Disaster Management Act: Regulations: Alert Level 3.

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.

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