LOUSY LAND­LORD

CityPress - - Business -

IPHUMI WRITES:

have been rent­ing a house for the past two years and pay my rent on the first of each month with­out fail. I am re­spon­si­ble for the elec­tric­ity bill, but the wa­ter bill is in­cluded in my rental. There are sev­eral main­te­nance is­sues that the land­lord has not re­paired and he keeps promis­ing to come and sort it out, but I have not seen or heard from him since De­cem­ber and he does not an­swer my calls.

A week ago, Jo­han­nes­burg Wa­ter shut off our wa­ter sup­ply with­out any no­tice to me – all state­ments and no­tices go to my land­lord’s per­sonal ad­dress. I have tried all av­enues to get hold of him, but he is not avail­able. What le­gal route should I take to re­solve this prob­lem as I am not fi­nan­cially ready to buy a place of my own?

DEON BOTHA OF RENTMASTER REPLIES:

In any dis­pute, the first step would be to read the lease agree­ment and see what is re­quired by the ten­ant should the land­lord breach the lease agree­ment – nor­mally, the ten­ant would have to put the land­lord to terms in the man­ner pre­scribed in the lease agree­ment or un­der the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act. Only af­ter the land­lord has failed to rem­edy the breach within the de­manded time would the ten­ant be able to take cer­tain ac­tions.

In this case, there are two is­sues, namely main­te­nance and the cut­ting off of wa­ter sup­ply.

Main­te­nance is a com­plex area that is sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion as the owner is li­able for struc­tural main­te­nance, but the ten­ant is li­able for fair wear and tear.

The owner and ten­ant of­ten dif­fer about what is seen as struc­tural ver­sus wear and tear. The com­pe­tent author­ity in such dis­agree­ments and dis­putes re­mains the Rental Hous­ing Tri­bunal, which will in­ves­ti­gate com­plaints and make bind­ing and fi­nal awards.

It is im­por­tant to note that a ten­ant can­not off­set re­pairs against rent. In other words, they may not with­hold rent in lieu of per­form­ing main­te­nance them­selves.

When it comes to switch­ing off the wa­ter, this is a clearcut case and the land­lord is in the wrong as the sup­ply of mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices is not op­tional.

If the ten­ant pays her rent and the sup­ply of ser­vices is dis­con­tin­ued due to the owner’s fail­ure to per­form, she is suf­fer­ing di­rect tan­gi­ble dam­ages and has an im­me­di­ate claim against him.

The prob­lem here is that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity may dis­con­tinue wa­ter sup­ply due to non­pay­ment of other util­i­ties, such as rates. Be­cause she is di­rectly and ad­versely af­fected by the owner’s fail­ure to per­form, she will have a strong case for set­tling the bill with the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and off­set­ting it against rental due. She must, how­ever, be able to show that she made her best ef­forts to con­tact the owner and put him to terms in this re­gard. Here, her con­sumer rights in terms of the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act would pro­tect her. She needs to for­mally no­tify the owner of his fail­ure to per­form. If she is un­able to con­tact him, as ex­plained, then send­ing the no­tice by reg­is­tered mail to the ad­dress stip­u­lated in the lease agree­ment will suf­fice. The no­tice must ex­plic­itly lay out the de­mand for per­for­mance and pro­vide a fair no­tice pe­riod for per­for­mance – say seven days (add five days for reg­is­tered mail de­liv­ery and keep the orig­i­nal re­ceipt from the Post Of­fice) – as well as clearly state her in­tended ac­tion should he fail to per­form in terms of the no­tice. This could in­clude can­celling the lease agree­ment and va­cat­ing the prop­erty, or at­tend­ing to the dam­ages and off­set­ting this against the rent. She may want to ap­proach the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to as­cer­tain the ex­act cause of the dis­con­nec­tion of ser­vices and the amount of out­stand­ing money in­volved. The point here is that if the owner has not paid any rates for 12 months, the amount may be sub­stan­tial and ex­ceed the monthly rental amount. She may be able to en­ter into an ar­range­ment with the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to di­vert the rental amount di­rectly to them and pay off the out­stand­ing amount that way.

CITY PRESS REPLIES:

Michelle Dick­ens of TPN Credit Bu­reau con­firms that a ten­ant should re­vert to the lease be­fore tak­ing fur­ther ac­tion, how­ever, she raises the con­cern that Phumi may strug­gle to get her de­posit back upon can­cel­la­tion of the lease, which means she may not have money to se­cure a new rental prop­erty. Dick­ens says the Rental Hous­ing Tri­bunal is the only avail­able re­source to help that will not add to her fi­nan­cial bur­den.

As each prov­ince has its own tri­bunal, City Press tried to con­firm the tele­phone num­bers in each prov­ince with­out suc­cess, ex­cept for the Western Cape, which con­firmed that its pro­vin­cial cus­tomer call cen­tre was the first port of call. In most cases, there was no re­ply on the tele­phone num­bers listed or we were informed the num­ber did not ex­ist.

We will con­tinue to try to find di­rect num­bers, how­ever, the best point of con­tact ap­pears to be the prov­inces’ main cus­tomer call cen­tre or the de­part­ment of hu­man set­tle­ments. It is con­cern­ing that such an im­por­tant re­source such as the Rental Hous­ing Tri­bunal is so un­der­re­sourced.

Na­tional de­part­ment of hu­man set­tle­ments: 080 014 6873 / 012 421 1915

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