I can’t pay my rent – what do I do now?

Most South Africans are fairly adept at stretching a pay cheque when necessary, thanks to our unpredictable economy, high unemployment rate, and skyrocketing living expenses. Of course, even the most frugal of households can only make their money go so far, so what happens when disaster strikes and your income takes an unexpected dip, leaving you with empty pockets when it’s time to pay rent?

“There’s no doubt that South African tenants are feeling the pinch at the moment,” says Jacqui Savage, National Rentals Business Development Manager at the Rawson Property Group. “If you find yourself struggling to pay rent, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, only 67.27% of renters this year have been able to pay on time and in full – we’ve had the third-largest decline ever recorded in Tenants in Good Standing according to TPN’s latest Residential Rental Monitor.”

Just because the situation isn’t unusual, however, doesn’t mean that you can safely ignore it. In fact, denial could be your worst enemy if you hope to get through your financial troubles, unscathed.

“Not being able to pay rent is an incredibly stressful position to be in,” says Savage, “particularly if it’s because of something like a retrenchment or unexpected illness in the family. The last thing most people want to do under these circumstances is share the details of their struggle with their landlord or rental agent, but keeping silent is extremely counterproductive if you’re hoping to preserve a good landlord/tenant relationship.”

“Many landlords rely on rental income to cover a portion – or all – of their bond costs,” she continues. “If rent stops coming in, those repayments might become unaffordable for them, and they could face losing their property as a result. This is obviously not ideal for either the landlord or the tenant, which is why it’s in everyone’s best interests to work together in the event of a financial hiccup.”

While it might be counterintuitive to admit financial distress to a landlord who relies on your rental income to support their property, Savage reveals that honesty is as the old cliche says, the best policy.

“In almost all cases, assuming you have a previously good payment history, it’s a safer and wiser choice for your landlord to find a way to let you to stay,” says Savage, pointing out that new tenants can be a far riskier prospect than helping an old, reliable tenant over a rough patch. “By having an open and honest discussion, you have the opportunity to reach a compromise that benefits both of you.”

When it comes to the specifics of that compromise, the options vary depending on the nature and seriousness of the problem.

It is essential that the tenant and landlord are both on the same page from the very beginning. As soon as you realise you might have trouble meeting your rental obligations, make the call to your landlord or rental agent. That way everyone is prepared and can take the necessary steps to minimise the damage, while finding the quickest and easiest route back to a healthy financial relationship.”

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