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‘We’re not all terrible’: the landlords who keep rents low

By | Lease Agreement, Rent, Tenants

Tales of misery for tenants hit the headlines but there are property owners who go the extra mile

Reprinted from the Guardian, by Suzanne Bearne – 2022-04-23
We love this story. As eviction lawyers, we inevitably see tenants and landlords who have experienced difficulties in the landlord-tenant relationship. There are faults committed on both sides. But, as the article says, tales of landlords doing right by tenants and tenants behaving responsibly don’t make news because…well, there’s no news in that. But we know there are many property owners in South Africa who have worked hard over the past two years to ensure their tenants were safe and secure, even as landlords also faced economic difficulties. We are sharing this article from the UK in celebration of all the great landlords in SA.

There are about 1.5 million residential landlords in England, according to the 2018 English Private Landlord Survey, and in 2020-21, the private rented sector accounted for 4.4 million, or 19%, of households in England.

Earlier this month, a committee of MPs reported that more than one in eight of these homes posed a risk to safety, and that it was “too difficult for renters to realise their legal right to a safe and secure home”.

This week there has also been news of a major charity failing to look after the homes of some of its tenants.

But alongside the problem properties, and the landlords who are doing everything they should be a doing, there are some owners who are going the extra mile for their tenants.

“We’re not all terrible landlords,” says Heather Scott, 41, a copywriter, who started renting out her dad’s property in Whitstable when he went into care, charging the tenants less than the market rent. “We both liked to put our morals where our mouth is and the rents here are astronomical,” she says.

They decided to rent out the property to a friend and her three children who were “living in a tiny house” nearby for which they paid £760 a month. For the same money the family now live in a three-bedroom detached house with a large garden and parking close to the children’s school and a 10-minute walk to the beach.

“We worked out that level of rent would cover my dad’s care home bill and she would have a lovely place to live,” Scott says. “Dad has since died but I’m happy with the renting situation as I know the children have stability in their lives, I have long-term income coming from the property, which I no longer have a mortgage on, and it isn’t losing value.

“Yes, I could probably charge double the rent but in a town where a three-bed terrace house costs at least £1,300 a month in rent and the average wage is about £20,000 a year, it didn’t seem right.”

As in many tourist hotspots, there are only a small number of properties to rent in Whitstable. Pointing to the rise of holiday lets in the coastal town, Scott says she can “count the key safes down the road”. She says there are 20 empty homes on the street. “I know I could earn at least four times as much renting through Airbnb but that would mean taking a home away from a family who have roots and work in our town,” she says.

‘I try to keep rents low’

Homeless at 19 and sleeping in sheds, back gardens and train stations, Lara Oyedele, 55, is perhaps an unlikely landlord. But those tough beginnings led Oyedele to study a master’s in housing, move into a career in social housing and become a landlord herself. She has a portfolio of 10 rental properties in Bradford.

“The first properties (prior to 2014) were bought purely for investment,” she says. “I was working full-time within the social housing sector, so I was doing my bit. But even then, I was determined that my rents would be affordable. The properties acquired after 2014 were bought with the full intention of creating a portfolio of affordable homes so I could support others and be a good landlord.”

Oyedele, who is the vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Housing, says: “I remember that feeling when I eventually got a council flat. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was in a grotty block with two bedrooms but I could shut the door and it was mine.”

She keeps the rents on her nine properties as low as possible. “I’ve never charged market rates,” Oyedele says. “It’s not fair on people. If I don’t need the money and can make an OK profit and be kind to other people [that’s good enough].”

She is also flexible and willing to stagger payments or help out tenants at times of crisis. “A couple of years ago my tenant had issues with family stuff and I said: ‘Listen, don’t pay the £350 in rent in December, just put an extra £100 on top of your rent for the next few months,’” she says. “I have one tenant who can’t work, her rent is cheaper than the mortgage. I try to keep rents low so people aren’t stressing out about paying rent, and I organise repairs as quickly as I can.”

On top of providing homes, she says she recently bought baby items for tenants. “I also do coaching and help my tenants with interview skills. I say I’ll help you get a job, send me your CV. Although one tenant did say to me: ‘It’s my personal life; it’s not your business.’”

Moira Beattie, 60, who lives in Chertsey, lets out four bedsits in the building above her hair and beauty salon via Rentstart, a charity that works with landlords to offer properties to people facing homelessness.

“I think everyone deserves a chance,” Beattie says. “I’ve got to know a lot of the 20 tenants who have lived here since I bought the building in 2008 and have helped several with trips to the jobcentre. Many have gone on to find jobs. I quite like being this kind of landlord. I like helping people. People can’t get a job or bank account if they don’t have anywhere to live. Once they have somewhere to call home they can start rebuilding their life.”

Beattie keeps rents as low as possible. “All I want to do is pay my mortgage. I’m not in it to make money from my tenants,” she says. “My investment is the building.”

‘The father messages to say how happy they are’

When Jacqui Furneaux, 72, a retired nurse and travel writer living in Bristol, bought a two-bedroom flat in Clevedon last year with money her brother had left her she knew she wanted to do something “useful” with her inheritance.

“I set the wheels in motion to let it out to refugees and contacted North Somerset council, who allocated it to a lovely family from Afghanistan who I believe had helped the British armed forces,” she says. “It seemed like a nice way of saying welcome.”

The couple and their three-year-old son moved into the property in December. “I’ve met them several times, they’re lovely,” Furneaux says. “I’m so pleased to have helped. The father messages to say how happy they are.”

Furneaux, who rents out the flat for £850 a month, says she was told by estate agents that she could receive rental income of more than £1,000. “I don’t miss the extra money; I’m in a fortunate position that I have the state pension and an occupational pension,” she says. “It’s comforting to know a family who have helped the forces have a home.”

‘A landlord charging a fair rent … should be the norm’

Lee Coates, an ethical money and environmental, social and corporate governance consultant, says there is nothing intrinsically unethical about being a landlord.

“Those who cannot buy and need to rent need landlords to provide a property to rent,” he says. “How the landlord acts, however, is where ethics come in. We all know of instances where problems are not sorted and landlords do not meet even basic requirements – making an extra few pounds at the tenant’s expense. A landlord charging a fair rent and meeting their obligations, keeping the property in good condition, should be the norm.”

Richard Blanco, a spokesperson for the National Residential Landlords Association and the owner of 14 rental properties, says most tenants have a positive experience with their landlord.

“It’s a small minority of landlords who misbehave,” he says. “There’s some accidental landlords who don’t know the regulations and some downright stupid or negligent ones. You only hear about the small proportion because it’s much more newsworthy to report on the evil landlord. No one ever calls the local authorities to say how wonderful their landlord is. Hearing about a landlord repairing the boiler is really boring.”

Of his own properties, he says: “If someone reports an issue to me, I want to fix it asap.” He adds: “Knowing the tenant individually and understanding their lives is important. You’ve got to help them and encourage them to stay on top of their rent.”


We can help

Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a Cape Town law firm of specialist eviction lawyers, now operating in Johannesburg and Durban. We help both landlords and tenants with rental property issues. If you need advice on any aspect of a lease or landlord-tenant relations, contact one of our attorneys on 086 099 5146 or simon@sdlaw.co.za.

Do you have a good news story about your landlord (or tenant)?

This article is reprinted from the Guardian newspaper in the UK. But we’re sure there are many landlords here who have gone out of their way to help tenants, especially these past two years. We’d love to hear your good news stories and share them with our readers. Equally, if you are a landlord and have awesome tenants, let us know. We believe in giving praise where praise is due. Send your story to simon@sdlaw.co.za

Tenant selection and unfair discrimination

By | Tenants

It is illegal to discriminate against prospective tenants unfairly

The tenant selection process allows property owners to vet prospective tenants. It is legal – and advised – to carry out a credit check and ask for references. A landlord has a right to know that a tenant will be able to pay the rent on time and will look after the property respectfully. However, it is illegal to reject a tenant application on the basis of sex or race (or any other quality, such as sexual persuasion, protected by the Bill of Rights). Not only are these basic rights enshrined in the Constitution, they are also protected by the Rental Housing Act (RHA), which allows for the prosecution and imprisonment of landlords and estate agents who practise unfair discrimination against prospective tenants.

Legislation   

It’s hard to believe that, in South Africa in 2022, this should still be an issue. But just recently a prospective tenant was refused the right to apply to rent a property in Cape Town CBD by an estate agent. The reason given was the “client is race-specific”. This situation not only contravened the RHA but also the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA), constituting this act as a criminal offence. Section 4(1) of the Rental Housing Act of 1999 states:

In advertising a dwelling for purposes of leasing it, or in negotiating a lease with a prospective tenant, or during the term of a lease, a landowner may not unfairly discriminate against such prospective tenant or tenants, or the members of such tenant’s household or the visitors of such tenant, on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

The section refers to “landowners”. However, agencies and estate agents are not excluded. “Landowner” is defined in section 1 of the Act and includes the owner’s “duly authorised agent or a person who is in lawful possession of a dwelling and has the right to lease or sublease it”.

Section 16 of the RHA continues:

Any person who fails to comply with Section 4…will be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment not exceeding two years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.

What is “unfair” discrimination?

Similar to PEPUDA, section 4(1) of the Rental Housing Act prohibits “unfair” discrimination. What constitutes unfair discrimination? In certain circumstances different treatment does not perpetuate patterns of disadvantage and harm. Thus the different treatment will be permissible, although these circumstances are rare. An example might be a women-only residence, set up as a place of safety for women who have suffered abuse. In this case, it is not unfair to refuse to rent to a man.

Discrimination goes beyond tenants

Unfortunately, discrimination doesn’t begin and end with the two parties of the lease agreement. It is not unknown for body corporates or other tenants of a building to harass tenants of colour or their guests in a manner that equates to unfair discrimination. The security guard who waves one car through with barely a glance but subjects the next driver to exaggerated scrutiny because the body corporate has hinted that cars or drivers fitting a certain description are suspicious is an example of  discrimination thinly disguised as security. However, the protective measures apply to everyone and discrimination of this nature is in contravention of the relevant provisions of PEPUDA. Tenants who experience any form of unfair discrimination can take those responsible for it to the Equality Court.

We can help

Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a Cape Town law firm of specialist eviction lawyers, now operating in Johannesburg and Durban. We help both landlords and tenants with rental property issues. If you think you are the victim of unfair discrimination, or if you need advice on any aspect of a lease or landlord-tenant relations, contact one of our attorneys on 086 099 5146 or simon@sdlaw.co.za.

Further reading:

Landlords likely to have stricter credit and rental checks after Covid-19 financial impact

Tenant risk: 5 metrics to consider

Getting to grips with the Rental Housing Amendment Act

Tenant red flags and how to avoid them

By | Lease Agreement, Rent, Rental deposit, Tenants

Tenant Red Flags

Reprinted from Engineering News – 2022-03-24

The residential property industry continues its upward trajectory, and investors are getting in on the action. However, with the rise of investors choosing to take advantage of low prices and invest in ‘buy-to-let’ properties comes an excess supply of rental properties in areas with high supply and low demand.

Residential rental vacancies in Gauteng are currently sitting at a high rate of 11.9%, while the Western Cape is sitting at a slightly lower 11.4% vacancy rate according to TPN’s 2021 Q4 data.

Although landlords may be getting desperate, industry experts advise you to think twice before signing on the first tenant who comes your way. Explains Grant Smee, Managing Director of Only Realty, and property entrepreneur: “Placing a tenant in your vacant property might help curb your losses in the short-term, but putting the wrong tenant in can have a lasting negative effect.”

He adds that the law protects both the landlord and the tenant’s rights and therefore urges parties to do their due diligence prior to signing a lease agreement. Speaking to tenant’s obligations, Smee highlights “the requirement to pay rent promptly, to take care of the property and to return the property in the same condition that it was received in.” Landlords, on the other hand, are required to provide the tenant with access to a safe home in good working order. They are also required to maintain the exterior of the building and to protect the tenant’s deposit.

Smee adds while some properties are enjoying an influx of rental applications, others are desperately seeking tenants, both of which are at risk. “Receiving a rental application is a big relief for a landlord, so much so, that they often overlook red flags.”

Unfortunately, the price of avoiding the warning signs and securing a problem tenant carries a high price for landlords. This is because evicting tenants is a long and costly process in South Africa, and requires landlords to serve tenants with a ‘tenant eviction notice’ before they are entitled to a court hearing. “Even if the court process rules in the landlord’s favour, only a court-appointed sheriff is allowed to remove the tenant’s belongings, and this process can take weeks if not months,” warns Smee.

While some of these red flags can be avoided by using a reputable letting agent (and agency), some red flags are often overlooked.

The obvious red flags

A poor credit score: “A credit score refers to ones’ ability to pay back their debt on time. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated high levels of debt in South Africa, and this will be a prevalent issue for years to come,” says Smee. “Prior to signing on a tenant, a thorough credit check should be run. A credit score of 610-plus is acceptable.”

Affordability: “The general rule of thumb is that your monthly rental should not exceed 30% of your monthly salary,” says Smee. An assessment of a prospective tenant’s affordability will give a landlord a clearer idea of their monthly income and expenditure. “Agents and landlords should ensure that the tenant has enough income left over to pay their rent, electricity, and water (where required).”

References: A tenant will require a reference from previous landlords to determine their behaviours as  tenant. “A reference tells the landlord who the tenant is and if they are reliable or not. If the prospective tenant has no prior rental history, they will need to either arrange a co-signature on their lease agreement or can offer to put another credible reference- such an employer – forward.”

The not-so-obvious red flags

Smee lists the potential red flags that many landlords overlook in the tenant screening process:

Employment history: “Employment is hard to come by, however, some prospective tenants’ short employment histories can tell a different story. Job hoppers or people who run into trouble in the workplace can sometimes display these behaviours in their home life too.”

Criminal history: “Performing a criminal background check may sound extreme but this is a standard part of the hiring process in many industries and rentals should be no different. Some companies such as TPN provide a SAPS criminal background check to landlords as part of their Credit Check offering to ensure that your tenant is safe, honest and reliable.”

General behaviour: “Quite often there are red flags from the very first engagement with a tenant. In some cases, they are hard to reach or can be extremely difficult and demanding for no apparent reason,” he explains. “This is another reason why it’s important to use a rental agent whose judgement you can trust.”

Ensuring a good tenant-landlord relationship

Smee offers the following advice for those wanting to ensure a smooth relationship:

Always communicate: “In cases where the tenant already occupies the property, be sure to communicate and put everything in writing. Remain calm and rational should something go wrong and seek advice from estate agents and lawyers (where necessary).”

Don’t be fooled by fast cash: “Don’t fall into the trap of accepting a large sum of cash upfront in lieu of regular rental payments. Just because they have the money now, doesn’t mean they’ll have it in four month’s time when the next payment is due.”

Don’t rush: “In cases where the tenant is dragging their feet about signing the rental agreement, don’t lose hope yet. Try your best to clearly communicate, perform all the necessary checks, answer any questions they may have and spend a few days mulling over your decision before jumping into a lease agreement.”

Trust your gut: “Much like any relationship, if something feels off when you’re engaging with a prospective tenant, trust your instincts. Paperwork can be forged, but your intuition is rarely wrong,” he concludes.


Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a Cape Town law firm of specialist eviction lawyers, now operating in Johannesburg and Durban, helping both landlords and tenants with rental property issues. Contact one of our eviction attorneys on 086 099 5146 or simon@sdlaw.co.za if you need advice on the eviction process or if you need help with any aspect of a lease or landlord-tenant relations.

Further reading: