IS THE TENANT OR LANDLORD RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WATER LEAKS?

Questions, and sometimes disputes, often arise between landlords and tenants regarding where the responsibility lies with the maintenance of a property. The simple answer is that tenants can generally only be held responsible for repairs/replacement on the property if the damage was caused by the tenant’s actions, or items that have a short life span, such as light bulbs.

On the other hand, alarm systems, auto gates and doors, locks, fixtures and fittings, appliances, or anything provided to the tenant are generally the responsibility of the owner to repair, unless damaged by the tenant.

Fair wear and tear

Damage due to fair wear and tear is the owner’s responsibility to correct. This includes situations where the property has, over time, experienced wear due to its use or age.

Examples would include:

  1. Fireplace chimneys: The landlord should maintain the fireplace e.g. having the chimney cleaned at appropriate intervals. Gardens, however, would require the tenant to do general maintenance.
  2. Blocked drains: This is usually due to tenant usage making it the tenant’s responsibility, but if blockage is due to tree roots, it would be the landlord’s responsibility.

Regarding appliances, as with any fixture or fitting, the landlord is responsible for repairs to appliances provided under the tenancy agreement unless the damage was caused by the tenant’s deliberate actions or negligence.

Tenants should report any damage on the property. If they fail to do this, they could find themselves held liable for any further damage due to lack of immediate attention to the initial problem. Furthermore, tenants are obliged to provide access for contractors to effect repairs.

Conclusion

If there is a water leak on the property, it would most likely be the landlord’s responsibility to fix. It is advisable for tenants to read and understand the lease agreement fully and for landlords to list as much as possible that needs to be maintained by the tenant. For example, if the unit has a garden that the tenant is responsible for maintaining, this should be mentioned in the lease.

Reference:

RENTING PROPERTY TO FOREIGNERS

Renting property in South Africa is a straightforward process. The country has a vast selection of rental accommodation including bachelor flats in apartment blocks, Victorian cottages, stand-alone houses with big gardens, and semi-detached units in modern townhouse complexes.

In South Africa, the right of a foreigner to purchase immovable property was restricted in the past by the Aliens Control Act. These restrictions were uplifted in 2003 by the new Immigration Act (“the Act”) which repealed the Aliens Control Act and many of its restrictive provisions and now clearly defines who a legal foreigner is and who is not. In short, a legal foreigner is a person in possession of a valid temporary residence permit or a permanent residence permit approved by the Department of Home Affairs.

The new Act makes provision for various temporary residence permits to be issued to foreigners, including amongst others:

  • A visitor’s permit
  • A work and entrepreneurial permit
  • A retired person permit

In principle, a landlord or tenant can legitimately lease or sell immovable property to any person recognised under the Act as a legal foreigner.

That said, foreigners working in South Africa with a legal work permit, are not regarded as “non-residents” by the South African Reserve Bank. They are considered to be residents for the duration of the period of their work permit and are therefore not restricted to a loan of only 50% of the purchase price.

It is also important to take note that the Act criminalizes the letting or selling of immovable property to an illegal foreigner by making this transaction equivalent to the aiding and abetting of an illegal foreigner and is such an act classified as a criminal offence in terms of the Act.

In conclusion, a legal foreigner may let or buy immovable property in South Africa, provided that he is the holder of either a legal temporary residence permit or a permanent residence permit approved by the Department of Home Affairs. Ensure that you enquire from your potential tenant or purchaser whether they are legally present in South Africa and obtain the necessary proof from them before entering into any transaction with a foreigner. Also, take account of the restrictions on local financing, particularly where the procurement of financing is a condition precedent to the agreement.

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)

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)

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)

DISPUTES WITH BODY CORPORATE: HOMEOWNERS’ REMEDIES

Our office recently dealt with a matter where the trustees of the body corporate of a certain sectional title scheme clamped the wheel of the car of one of its homeowners because he did not park on his allocated parking bay.

Even though the homeowner did not park on his allocated parking bay, he could not understand why his vehicle got clamped for parking outside of his own front porch, when he was in and out of the house during the day. It seemed highly unfair and unreasonable to the homeowner.

It is a truism that every homeowner cannot do as he pleases as this would lead to total disorder in the sectional title scheme, and it is the duty of the trustees of the body corporate to enforce rules on owners and tenants alike. When one buys a property in a sectional title scheme one will more often than not find a provision in the agreement which states that homeowners, inter alia, will abide by the rules of the body corporate.

This begs the question whether or not the homeowner’s hands are tied if the rules were amended by a special decision taken at a general meeting by the trustees of the body corporate.

Remedies available to homeowners and tenants

If there is reason to believe that the trustees of the body corporate of a sectional title scheme have acted ultra vires (outside their powers), homeowners have a choice of two remedies – either arbitration or an interdict.

  1. Arbitration step-by-step

The discontented homeowner could apply for arbitration, the duration of which should not exceed a maximum of 52 days.

In terms of Section 71 of Annexure 8 of the Sectional Title Act 95 of 1986, the purpose of arbitration is not, as some believe, to achieve compliance. The prescribed process requires the discontented homeowner to submit his dispute in writing to the trustees of the body corporate of the sectional title scheme within 14 days of the problem arising, whereafter the trustees will review and attempt to settle the matter. Should the problem still not be resolved, either the homeowner or the trustees of the body corporate can request that the matter be referred for arbitration.

The arbitrator has wide discretion in making a costs award. He may order payment by one party, by more than one jointly, or in specific proportions, depending on the outcome of the arbitration. The arbitrator’s decision may be made an order of the High Court upon application by either party, or a party affected by the arbitration.

  1. Alternative remedy

There is a further remedy available to the homeowner, namely an interdict or any form of urgent or other relief by a court with jurisdiction.

But this line of action has elicited the following warning:

Furthermore, the interdependence of the owners and occupants of units and the unavoidable requisite of harmonious co-existence render an interdict inadequate and indeed improper in the sectional title context. A successful application for an interdict can permanently ruin the harmony of a scheme (LAWSA aw para 238).

In essence, if the rules of your body corporate allow the trustees to clamp your wheel should you disobey the rules, and you have reason to believe that your Body Corporate is acting outside of its powers and/or the rules are unreasonable, you may follow the steps as set out above.

REFERENCED WORK:

  • See the article “Managing the Unmanageable” by Tertius Maree, published in De Rebus, August 1999.
  • Also see the article “Arbitration in Sectional Title Disputes” by Tertius Maree, published in De Rebus, August 1998.

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)