CANCELLING A LEASE AGREEMENT EARLY

If you want to end your contract early, this can only be done “in situations where the Consumer Protection Act or Rental Housing Act apply” – or if there’s a clause in the contract that allows for early cancellation, or if both parties agree to it.

If, on the other hand, one of the parties wants to cancel because the other is in breach of the contract, then certain notice periods come into effect – the first of which being, of course, that the aggrieved party is required to “give written notice for the breach to be remedied. Failure to remedy the breach in the stipulated time period, will entitle the innocent party to cancel the lease and (where relevant) claim damages suffered from the offending party.”

A tenant has the RIGHT to cancel a lease agreement, be it in the 1st month, 4th month or second-to-last month of the lease agreement. He cannot be ‘punished’ for doing this and the cancellation does not constitute a breach of the lease agreement.

What must an agent do if a tenant decides to cancel?

  1. Obtain the cancellation in writing from the tenant.
  2. Ensure the cancellation gives the requisite 20 business days’ notice.
  3. Charge rental until the end of the 20 business days (even if this is not a full month’s rental).
  4. Log on to TPN and end the lease as at the end of the 20 business days.
  5. Keep in mind the lease now ends as at the end of that 20 business days.
  6. Should the tenant remains in the premises a new lease MUST be signed as once cancelled, a lease cannot be revived at law. If you fail to do this, you essentially have no long-term lease in place.
  7. Begin advertising the property immediately – the onus is on the agent/landlord to find a replacement.
  8. Keep all invoices from the advertising as this is one of the costs you may pass along to the tenant in terms of a ‘reasonable cancellation penalty’.

What can an agent charge the tenant that cancels early?

The idea behind this reasonable cancellation penalty is not to penalise the tenant, but to recover any actual loss suffered by the landlord as a result of the cancellation. The following cost could be applicable:

  1. Credit check costs for any prospective replacement tenants (even those who are not accepted);
  2. Advertising costs (only the actual amounts on the invoices);
  3. Rental – the exact number of days that the unit remains vacant after the tenant vacates.

It is important to keep in mind that all calculations of the penalty can only be made once a replacement tenant has been found. It must also be kept in mind that where a tenant cancels, for example, in month 10 or 11 of a 12-month lease, you cannot charge the tenant the full remainder of the lease as this would negate the cancellation. The principles behind cancellation penalties lie in our law of undue enrichment. A landlord/agent cannot make a financial gain or benefit off of a tenant’s cancellation.

References:

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)

THE CONSUMER’S RIGHTS UNDER THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT

Can a consumer take you, the service provider, to court because they did not understand some of the terms and conditions of your signed contract? Beware, the answer is Yes!

From April 2011 the Consumer Protection Act came into full effect with the result that it is now against the law to use difficult-to-understand language in any business document or contract.

Business usually comes with some kind of paperwork, whether it’s a contract, a letter of agreement or even an instruction booklet. These vital documents are often written in language that is hard to understand for the average consumer, which is why there are specific Plain Language regulations in The Consumer Protection Act to prevent consumers from signing documents they do not understand.

Protecting the consumer

The Act’s express purpose is to make sure consumers are not treated unfairly – intentionally or not. This means that using plain language is more crucial than ever. From now on, using obscure and confusing wording, especially in binding contracts, is not allowed. Quite simply, it’s illegal!

Too many consumers have landed in big trouble, especially financial trouble, because they haven’t understood what they’ve signed. Sometimes contracts are written in bloated, bureaucratic jargon just because that’s the way it has always been, or because the people writing the contracts don’t know any other way to do it. Often, though, unscrupulous businesses have used complicated language on purpose, as a way to trick consumers into paying for something they can’t afford, to sign away their rights, or to agree to unfair terms and conditions.

Defining plain language

The Consumer Protection Act defines plain language in Part D, Section 22 as follows:

For the purposes of this Act, a notice, document or visual representation is in plain language if it is reasonable to conclude that an ordinary consumer of the class of persons for whom the notice, document or visual representation is intended, with average literacy skills and minimal experience as a consumer of the relevant goods or services, could be expected to understand the content, significance, and import of the document without undue effort, having regard to:

The context, comprehensiveness and consistency of the notice, document or visual representation;

The organisation, form and style of the notice, document or visual representation;

The vocabulary, usage and sentence structure of the notice, document or visual representation; and

The use of any illustrations, examples, headings, or other aids to reading and understanding.

This means that one won’t be permitted to word things so widely that they can be understood in several ways. The Act states that if there is any doubt about the meaning of certain words or terms and conditions, the benefit will go to the consumer. Even advertising and marketing may no longer contain any ambiguity. Advertisements won’t be allowed to exaggerate and they will have to be easy to understand, fair and honest. The Act states that service providers will have to spell out everything in words that consumers can understand. Alternatively the consumers have the right to full disclosure and information in plain and understandable language.

 Therefore, don’t delay. If you have a business document or contract that has been used for generations you might have to take a second look at it to edit or reword it so that it complies with the Consumer Protection Act.

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)

CANCELLATION OF THAT GYMNASIUM CONTRACT

We have all made New Year’s Resolutions. This year I will start exercising, eating healthy and spend less time at the office and more with the family. In order to fulfill this resolution, you join the local gymnasium as soon as you return from your December holiday. It does not bother you whether the agreement is for two, three or four years. This year you are going to keep that resolution!

Then winter arrives and you spend more time at the office and at the fireside and less time in the gymnasium. By August you recognise the debit order of the gymnasium on your bank statement, knowing full well that you have not been there for at least two months.

The Consumer Protection Act (“the act”) has limited the effect of fixed-term agreements containing automatic renewal clauses for a further fixed term. As the legislator has given a wide definition to the words “goods” and “services”, most fixed-term agreements will fall within the scope of the act. Section 16 of the act provides that any consumer may cancel a long-term agreement with twenty business days’ notice, which notice must be in writing, unless both parties to the agreement are juristic persons.

The act then provides that the supplier may be entitled to a “reasonable cancellation penalty” payable by the consumer for cancelling the fixed-term agreement. What constitutes a reasonable cancellation penalty will depend on the type and nature of the contract.

Lester Timothy of Deneys Reitz Attorneys uses the example of a mobile phone contract, an analogy most of us will understand. A consumer enters into a two-year contract with a mobile phone service provider and simultaneously purchases a handset to be paid by monthly installments in the course of the two-year contract. The service provider will thus have incurred expenses regarding the handset. Therefore, in the event of the consumer cancelling the contract, it will be acceptable for the mobile service provider to charge the consumer for the outstanding balance of the handset to recover the expenses incurred.

Where a supplier incurs no significant additional cost as a result of the cancellation of the contract, the supplier will have more difficulty to establish the reasonableness of any cancellation penalty unless a discount is given.

You may therefore approach that gymnasium and notify them in writing of your intention to cancel the agreement after twenty business days. Depending on the remaining period of your contract and the wording of the agreement, you will have to pay a reasonable cancellation penalty. However, as the gymnasium did not incur significant additional costs as a result of your cancellation, you will be entitled to a discount on the remaining balance of the agreement.

Negotiate the cancellation penalty fee with the gymnasium. You may be surprised what the offer of an immediate payment as cancellation penalty can do.

And next year, rather buy running shoes, even expensive ones. They will wait patiently in your wardrobe till the following New Year’s Day…

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)