IS MY TENANT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WORN OUT CARPET?

There are several damages a landlord can deduct from a tenant’s deposit. However, there are certain household items that will experience normal wear and tear over time. This is referred to as “fair wear and tear”.

Fair wear and tear is seen as damage or loss to an item at the property which happens as a result of ordinary use and exposure over time.

According to the Rental Housing Act, a landlord is free to claim compensation for damage to the property caused by the tenant, except for fair wear and tear.

It’s important to remember that the original condition and age of the item at commencement of the lease agreement needs to be taken into account, and therefore cost of depreciation of the item due to normal wear. Paint fades, doors and walls get scuffed with use, and everything wears or breaks over time, even with a tenant who really cares for the property, and one can’t hold a tenant liable for this.

If a tenant or landlord has a problem, they can go to the Rental Housing Tribunal to resolve it.

The Rental Housing Tribunal

The Rental Housing Tribunal is a useful resource for both landlords and tenants who are dealing with rental property disputes in different forms. Cases that the Rental Housing Tribunal deals with include:

  1. Tenants defaulting on their rent
  2. Failure to repay a deposit
  3. Invasion of a tenant’s privacy
  4. Overcrowding of a rental property
  5. Determining a fair rental amount
  6. Illegal seizing of a tenant’s property
  7. Discrimination against a prospective tenant
  8. A receipt for rent not being issued
  9. Unacceptable behaviour by a tenant
  10. Lack of maintenance and repairs to the property
  11. Illegally refuse a tenant access to the property or interrupt services
  12. Unacceptable living conditions

A general rule of thumb is that, if a tenant has damaged something that does not normally wear out, or the tenant has substantially shortened the life of something that does wear out, the tenant may be charged the prorated cost of the item. The landlord should take into account how old the item was and how long it may have lasted otherwise, as well as the cost of replacement.

Conclusion

Ordinary wear and tear to carpets should not count against the tenant, however large rips or stains would be considered damage. Any deduction for the tenant’s deposit should take into account the age of the carpets, compared with the expected total time of usage.

Reference list:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

HOW CAN I LAWFULLY EVICT MY TENANT?

You’ve discovered that the tenant renting your apartment has damaged several appliances, including the floor tiles due to irresponsible behaviour. Therefore, you have decided to terminate the lease contract and evict the tenant. Are you allowed to do that and how do you get started?

Firstly, there has to be valid reasons to evict a tenant, such as the example above. Even if you do have a valid reason to pursue eviction, a legal process has to be followed if you want to stay within the law. The first step is to cancel the lease contract with the tenant and let the tenant know that it’s cancelled and the reasons why. After the contract is terminated, the tenant would be occupying the premises illegally. You can then go to a court with an eviction application or “ejectment order”. When you do this you will be required to prove that the contract with the tenant was properly terminated and that the reasons for doing so were valid.

It’s important to make sure the reasons you want to evict the tenant are valid. This is because tenants are protected by the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act, No. 19 of 1998. You cannot just evict a tenant because you don’t like them.

Other grounds for an eviction

Besides a tenant causing serious damage to a property there are two other grounds for an eviction. The obvious one is the tenant not paying his/her rent after having been told to do so. Another reason is the tenant using the property for anything other than was agreed upon in the contract. A tenant who opens a business in the apartment they are renting would be in breach of their contract if it was agreed to be rented for residential purposes only.

What happens at the court?

The eviction application can be taken to the Magistrate’s Court or the High Court. Court proceedings will follow, which the tenant should be notified about. It’s very likely that the tenant will deny any wrongdoing and say the eviction doesn’t have good grounds. If this is the case, they can inform the court. A dispute and court case may ensue, the outcome of which would depend on the evidence of what happened. Therefore, if you are considering evicting a tenant, make sure your reasons are clear and that there is evidence for the eviction. If the tenant broke property on your premises because of being irresponsible, then that could be solid evidence.

Dealing with the tenant

The tenant may agree that they have done something wrong or simply decided not to oppose the eviction, in which case the court would issue an ejectment order. The ejectment order will force the tenant to leave the property, which will be carried out by the Sheriff of the Court. It’s important to remember that the landlord is not allowed to personally remove tenants from their premises. Leave that to the authorities. Furthermore, the court may order the tenant to pay the legal costs of the landlord.

Reference:

Anderson, AM. Dodd, A. Roos, MC. 2012. “Everyone’s Guide to South African Law. Third Edition”. Zebra Press.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

CAN I BREAK OFF AN ENGAGEMENT?

When a couple gets married they enter into a contract with each other. However, many ask whether or not the engagement is a contract, and if so, are there consequences for breaking it off?

What is an engagement?

In order to enter into a valid engagement to be married the following requirements must be met:

  • Both parties must have the capacity to act, which generally means that parties must be older than 18 years or if they are minors, that they have the necessary consent from their guardians.
  • Both parties must voluntarily consent to the engagement. A material mistake, such as the identity of either of the parties, will render the engagement void. There must also be no misrepresentations made by either of the parties; in other words, where it would have resulted in the contract not being concluded, had the other party known the truth.
  • Both parties must be permitted by law to marry each other. For example, you may only be engaged to one party, unless a polygamous engagement applies under African Customary Law.
  • One may not marry a sibling.

It is important to note that there is no law in South Africa that requires an engagement before marriage.

Once a date for the marriage has been determined, there is a reciprocal duty to marry on that date, unless the date is changed by mutual agreement. Further, if no date has been determined, it is presumed that the marriage will take place within a reasonable time. Nevertheless, either of the parties may terminate the engagement, which may or may not attract a claim for damages or return of gifts.

What ends an engagement?

An engagement can be terminated in the following ways:

  • Marriage
  • Death of either parties
  • Mutual agreement
  • Withdrawal of parental consent
  • Breach of promise
  • Termination by one party that is justified and based on sound reasons

It is important to establish whether there is a just cause for cancellation. If there is, the engagement may be validly terminated. A reason such as sterility or criminal activity, if it was only brought to the attention of the other party after agreeing to marry, may provide enough grounds to break off the engagement. If both parties agree to terminate the engagement, all gifts given in anticipation of the marriage, including the engagement ring, must be returned.

What if the engagement is broken unexpectedly?

If one party breaches the promise to marry without justifiable reasons, the innocent party can, according to our law, institute a claim for damages, provided that the losses were within the contemplation of the parties. The innocent party can claim expenses incurred in anticipation of the wedding, thus placing the innocent party in the financial position he/she would have been had the engagement never been entered into. Furthermore, the innocent party may keep or claim back the engagement ring as part of costs incurred.

The court

In the case of Van Jaarsveld v Bridges, the court decided that a party cannot successfully institute a claim for prospective losses on the basis of a breach of promise to marry, because an engagement is not an ordinary contract in the context of contractual damages and should therefore not be placed on a rigid contractual footing. This means that a party may not institute a claim for damages placing him/her in the position he would have been had they gone through with the marriage. Previous court judgements indicate that compensation will be awarded at the discretion of the court and that each case must be evaluated on the basis of its individual circumstances.

In conclusion, it is important to note that a promise to marry is an agreement which attracts legal consequences; therefore, one should not be hasty when deciding to ask the big question.

Reference list:

  • Van Jaarsveld v Bridges 2010 (4) SA 558 (SCA).
  • Cloete v Maritz 2013 (5) SA448 (WCC).
  • Bull v Taylor 1965 (4) SA 29 (A).
  • Georgina Guedes, 23 October 2013, Mail and Guardian, “Five fallacies about engagement rings”.
  • A Guide to Divorce and Separation in South Africa, “Engagement and the Law”.
  •  Ronald & Bobroff, “The engagement”.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

WHO WILL TAKE OVER YOUR BUSINESS AFTER YOU’RE GONE?

Owning a business requires careful succession planning and is part of your estate planning as you have to determine who will succeed you, or who will purchase your shares, or who will be entitled to the income after your death. The future ownership of your business is at stake.

Partnership

A partnership automatically dissolves upon the death of a partner and the remaining partners will then have to dissolve it and divide the assets amongst them.

In the case of a company the shareholders may agree that:

  1. The remaining shareholders have a right of first refusal to purchase the deceased shareholder’s shareholding, as opposed to dealing with it in a will.
  2. The future of ownership of shares can be regulated by a written agreement between shareholders that is referred to as a “buy and sell” agreement and has an influence at the death of a partner or shareholder.
  3. The buy and sell agreement compels the executor of the deceased to offer the shares at a pre-determined price, and life policies between shareholders normally cover the purchase price.
  4. The remaining shareholders are the beneficiaries of the policy on the life of the deceased and use it to purchase the shares, normally pro rata to the shares they already own.
  5. Buy and sell policies fall outside the deceased estate and are not subject to estate duty provided that three requirements are met:
  • None of the premiums should have been paid by the deceased;
  • The shareholder relationship must have existed at the time of death;
  • A written agreement must exist.

…..6. When the skill and knowledge of a partner is essential for the survival of the business, “key man insurance” can be taken out on the life of such a partner or shareholder. The premiums are paid by the business and the benefit is paid to the business to prevent financial loss or to appoint and train a replacement.

Sole Proprietor

In the case of a “sole proprietor”, succession planning is dealt with in the Last Will and Testament.

  1. All the value of the business vests in the deceased estate.
  2. Planning is essential as the business terminates at death, although the executor may sell it as a going concern.
  3. It is a good idea to grant a right of first refusal to an associate, who can purchase the business and intellectual capital at the time of the death.
  4. A life policy can provide for cover on the life of the owner, with the associate being the beneficiary, and the proceeds at time of the death utilised to purchase the business.
  5. It deserves no debate that planning increases the benefit for the estate as opposed to closing the business down, where the assets will be worth far less.

Continued succession planning must be part of your business strategy to ensure your hard work benefits the right people.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)