Eviction lawyers Archives | Eviction Lawyers South Africa

What to do if your landlord is violating your rights

By | Rental Housing Act, Rental Housing Tribunal, Tenants

The Rental Housing Tribunal is there to help

The housing crisis in South Africa has led to a shortage of affordable housing options, resulting in many individuals living in overcrowded or unsafe conditions. This has also created challenges for landlords who struggle to find suitable tenants. To address some of these issues, the Rental Housing Act was passed in 1999. However, many people are still not aware of their tenant rights, concerned instead about their responsibilities. 

Tenants have a lot of obligations, dictated by the lease agreement. First and foremost, they have a duty to pay rent at a set time every month. They also have a responsibility to keep the property in good order and report any breakages or other problems to the landlord. They must abide by the terms of the lease agreement; only use the property for its intended purpose (e.g., not use a residential property for commercial purposes); and not breach any other conditions of occupancy (e.g., keeping pets if not permitted). It’s easy to think the landlord has all the rights and the tenant has all the responsibilities. But tenants also have rights, and the law is very clear on the recourse available to tenants should the landlord violate those rights.

Tenants’ rights

The tenant has the right to a property that is habitable and in good condition. Unacceptable living conditions, such as overcrowding or hygiene issues, are a breach of tenant rights. A habitable property means the landlord maintains the property and makes repairs when necessary. The landlord may not disconnect essential services, even if the rent has not been paid. The tenant also has a right to receipts or statements with regard to payments made, i.e., for rent and utilities, etc. The tenant has the right to not be discriminated against, on the grounds of race, sex, sexual preference, religion, etc. The tenant has the right not to be unlawfully evicted, i.e., without the correct legal process having been followed. The landlord may not change the locks or seize the tenant’s possessions, or put belongings out on the street. 

The landlord also may not increase the rent by an unfair amount or outside the time period indicated in the lease. For example, most leases allow for a set percentage increase on the renewal of the lease, usually at the annual anniversary. The landlord may not arbitrarily increase the rent without adhering to those conditions. And lastly, at the end of the tenancy, the tenant has a right to the return of the deposit, after deductions for any damages.

What to do if the landlord violates these rights

In the first instance, we always advise landlords and tenants to talk to each other. Most issues can be resolved by good communication, and many disputes are the result of misunderstanding or poor communication. So if you find your rights have been or are being violated, try to initiate a conversation with your landlord to resolve the matter. If they are not open to dialogue, or if a frank discussion doesn’t clear things up, further channels are available.

Role of Rental Housing Tribunal

The function of the Rental Housing Tribunal is dispute settlement between tenants and landlords. The service is free to both parties and is supported by the Department of Human Settlements. The Tribunal’s role is to:

  • Harmonise relationships between landlords and tenants in the rental housing sector
  • Resolve disputes that arise due to unfair practices
  • Inform landlords and tenants about their rights and obligations in terms of the Rental Housing Act
  • Make recommendations to relevant stakeholders

How to lodge a complaint with the Rental Housing Tribunal

Anyone can lodge a complaint with the Rental Housing Tribunal and there is no need for legal representation. Complaint forms can be found on the Human Settlements website. Documents should be lodged with the Tribunal, including a copy of the lease and ID document, and any supporting documentation (rental statements, letters of request for repairs, etc.). The Tribunal will review the complaint to determine if there is a legitimate dispute. While waiting for the Tribunal’s ruling, the landlord may not commence eviction proceedings, the tenant must continue to pay rent, and the landlord must continue to maintain the property. 

If the Tribunal determines the complaint is genuine, it will attempt to resolve the dispute through mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, the next step is arbitration (i.e., a hearing designed to resolve disputes), which both landlord and tenant must attend. The Tribunal’s ruling at the hearing is binding on both parties. Failure by either party to abide by the Tribunal’s ruling may result in criminal proceedings. A ruling by the Rental Housing Tribunal is considered an order of the Magistrate’s Court. As such, it can be appealed in the High Court.

Court vs. Tribunal

There are a few instances in which a court of law can be used to solve a complaint rather than the Tribunal. If the tenant is in rental arrears, the landlord may go to court to claim the amount owed, but only if unfair practice is not involved. If the landlord has grounds for eviction, they must go to court for an eviction order. The Tribunal’s powers do not extend to granting an order to evict a tenant. For all issues involving a breach of tenant rights, the Rental Housing Tribunal is the appropriate vehicle for resolution.

For further information

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

Further reading:

‘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

Farm eviction battle in Concourt

By | Eviction news, Farm evictions, Homeless

Reprinted from the Star, by Bongani Nkosi – 2021-09-22

Johannesburg – The Constitutional Court has been asked to come to the rescue of a man who has allegedly been evicted along with his family by farmers he worked for over the last 21 years.

Alias Mtolo, his wife, Maheneng Mtolo, and their eight children found themselves homeless after allegedly being evicted from the farm in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng, without a notice.

The Mtolos launched urgent court applications against Theunis Christoffel Lombard and his wife Maria Helentje Lombard following their alleged eviction.

The legal battle between the Mtolos and the Lombards reached the apex court yesterday.

Representing the Mtolos, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC told the justices the matter was brought before them following an unfavourable judgment by a South Gauteng High Court judge.

In this contested judgment, Judge Fiona Dippenaar struck the Mtolos’ application from the roll. They had approached her to seek an order compelling the Lombards to comply with an earlier order.

In that order, Judge Michael Antonie directed the Lombards to return the farm house to the possession of the Mtolos and make it fit for human occupation.

Central in the matter were also allegations that the Lombards had not fixed the house that was damaged during the “eviction” of the Mtolos.

Ngcukaitobi called on the Constitutional Court to interfere with Judge Dippenaar’s ruling.

“Firstly we say that Judge Dippenaar did not consider the implications of homelessness on the part of the Mtolo family, which itself would be an infringement of Section 26 of the Constitution,” he said.

Secondly, Ngcukaitobi said, Judge Dippenaar failed to consider whether the Lombards had complied with Judge Antonie’s order that they should fix the house.

“The facts show that the structure or the house of the Mtolos is a dangerous structure and it is not fit for human occupation,” Ngcukaitobi said.

“To sum up (this matter), we’re dealing with a case of homelessness because of a structure that constitutes a death trap.”

He referred to a report by the Emfuleni local municipality that described the four room house as hazardous.

It said the house’s corrugated iron sheets were not properly installed and risked being blown away by wind.

Ngcukaitobi said a just and equitable ruling in this matter would be one that ordered the Lombards to fix the house and allow the Mtolos back in.

“(It) is not punishment for the eviction that we’re asking for,” he said.

“But what we’re asking for is what would be just and equitable in the case of a farmworker who has worked for the same family for 21 years and then got kicked out without notice.”

Advocate Nadia Smit, representing the Lombards, denied that the Mtolos were evicted, or that they did not have alternative accommodation after vacating the farm house.

“They misrepresented themselves and they misled the court, not only this court but also the high court, by saying they are homeless,” she told the apex court.

“It’s evident from pictures attached to our answering affidavit in this court and before Judge Dippenaar and before Judge Antonie that in fact they had alternative accommodation. They weren’t homeless.”

Smit also denied that Judge Antonie’s judgment was not complied with. She said the house was fixed but the Mtolos had not returned. “We never asked them to vacate.”

Judgment was reserved.

For further information

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 the eviction process. 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 are facing unlawful eviction.

Further reading: