Before you sign on the dotted line

The days of using any ways or means to remove erring tenants are over. Tenants have rights and, if landlords abuse them, they shouldn’t expect any sympathy from the courts.

“The days of forcing tenants to move out using illegal tactics are over and anyone who is either renting out property or is considering renting out residential property needs to familiarise themselves with the Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act (PIE) Act”, says Adrian Goslett, CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa. “Although the Act has been in place for a number of years, generally speaking the effects are being felt far more by landlords as more and more tenants become aware of their rights.”

Although there are systems in place to protect the landlord, the tenant certainly has more rights than before and landlords cannot resort to changing the locks, cutting off water and electricity or forcibly removing a tenant that hasn’t paid rent without receiving authority from the courts to do so.

For many years tenants were at the mercy of their landlords and although there are people out there that have abused the system and the rights of landlords, there are also those who have treated their tenants unfairly. Deposits were often withheld for no legal reason and there were instances where, although rentals were increased on an annual basis, very little in the way of maintaining the property was carried out by the owner.

“This indicates that while it is vital to vet any new tenant carefully to ensure that they are going to continue to pay rent and maintain the property, it is becoming increasingly important to keep the property in a satisfactory condition for the parties concerned,” Says Goslett.

The Rental Housing Tribunal administers the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999, facilitating sound relations between tenants and landlords. The responsibilities of the Tribunal include advising tenants and landlords of their rights and obligations as well as resolving issues either via mediation or through a hearing.

The most common issues raised with the Tribunal include:

• Failure to refund deposits
• Unlawful notice to vacate
• Exorbitant increases in the rental
• Failure to pay rent
• Unlawful seizure of possessions
• Failure to reduce the lease to writing

Although there are many landlords who view property rentals as a business, unfortunately there are also those who don’t and continually ignore the law. Goslett says that in these circumstances, the law is most definitely on the side of the tenant. “There are procedures that every landlord has to follow and those who don’t need to understand the consequences when the proverbial wheels fall off.

He notes that it is equally important for tenants to become familiar with their rights. “Fore armed is fore warned and it is imperative for tenants to act quickly when landlords break the law. “ The Housing Tribunal has mediating facilities and if the issue cannot be resolved over the table, then a hearing will be called. It is worth noting that a ruling of the Tribunal is deemed to be an order  of a magistrate ‘s court in terms of the Magistrate ‘s  Court Act,1944 (Act No 32 of 1944).

“Mutual respect by both parties will go a long way in ensuring that the ‘relationship’ between the two parties remains on an even keel. There are many landlords and tenants who have been benefiting from this form of relationship for years and because of their approach to the entire affair, will continue to do so for years to come,” concludes Goslett.
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