ASK GEORGIE! TACKLES RENTAL AGENCIES
Letting agents are viewed as intermediaries between landlords and tenants. But what do you do if there are snags with the agent?
JUST about every week, issues between landlords and tenants crop up in my inbox. It’s usually the sameold complaints: tenants don’t pay, are a nuisance or damage property; or landlords abuse their power.
Estate agents though, don’t come off particularly well either.
Keshini (surname withheld) and her fiancé own a property in Centurion, which they let out through the nearby Just Letting branch.
The tenant, who was apparently screened and credit-checked by said branch, turned out to be a nightmare. Keshini said not only did the tenant damage property and abscond with a hefty council bill, he was also abusive towards their other tenant. He’s since become untraceable, but the branch is holding on to the deposit. The subsequent losses suffered by the couple exceed R60 000. They say they simply want access to that deposit. But the branch principal, Lance Nowitz, is not budging.
He told Keshini: “I have not refused to pay the deposit, I have simply asked that the regulating body get involved, ie Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB), which has been our position from the beginning. Just Property has also sustained damages in that we have paid staff for their work (commission on the full lease) as well as expended much time and effort on this property with the difficulties that came with it. We also incur massive costs finding tenants and being in position to do our work.
“The lease that was signed was signed with special conditions that the owner was going to fix many of the issues/items that were broken at the unit. An addendum with the full list was also signed to that effect. The owner did not fix the items on the list and therefore did not fulfil the condition on the lease.
“That being the case, many questions are raised as to liability and recourse, which is why we want the EAAB involved, because we want the ruling to be fair to both you and us.”
Not so, Keshini insists, having taken up the issue with the EAAB. Just Letting Centurion vetted the tenant and she and her fiancé only stopped attending to issues on the property when the tenant stopped paying.
I asked Just Letting’s head office about this but they said the franchise holder’s position on the matter does not reflect their own.
They had no answer though when I pointed out that one branch can sully the reputation of the entire group.
What, though, is the Estate Agency Affairs Board’s position? I asked Jimmy Baloyi, the executive manager of the board’s enforcement and compliance department, about Keshini’s matter and he suggested she first lodge an online complaint (www.eaab.org.za), before any action could be taken.
However, he later informed her that the board wasn’t able to force the agent into releasing the funds – she would first need to pursue legal option
against the agent before any claim could be instituted against the Fidelity Fund.
“The role of the board is, in terms of Section 7 (of the Estate Agency Affairs Act 112, of 1976) to maintain and promote the standard of conduct of estate agents and regulate the activities of estate agents in the public interest. The board can only undertake disciplinary investigations owing to the manner in which an estate agent conducted him/ herself when rendering their professional services to a member of the public.
“The board is not authorised to perform the function of a court of law, and therefore cannot order the agent to reimburse the landlord, for instance, and neither can the board award damages to the landlord as result of the fault on the part of an estate agent. However, the board is authorised to adjudicate upon the conduct of an estate agent that led to the landlord suffering damages and levy a penalty in that regard.”
It might well be time for change then, because Section 19 of the Act obliges anyone who claims against the Fidelity Fund of the board to take all the “necessary legal steps” before they can approach the board and lodge such a claim.
“That is what the law says,” he told me, adding: “The board has already taken disciplinary steps in this matter wherein we are investigating the conduct of the estate agent and the matter will, in due course, serve before the disciplinary committee of the board for hearing.”
The penalties include a fine of “up to R25 000, withdrawal of a Fidelity Fund certificate (which is a licence to practice) or a reprimand,” he said, adding that the law does not allow them to do more.
The system does favour the agents: how many people have the means to pursue legal action? Especially when you’re already out of pocket?
Hardly seems fair, does it?
Renting out your property can cost you a fortune if the terms and conditions aren’t 100 percent clear-cut, and a nightmare tenant can cost a lot of money, this consumer has found.