Landlord-tenant liability issue might be solvable
A SOLUTION to the “impossible triangle” – a moniker for landlord-tenant liabilities over incorrect municipal charges – might be possible after all, according to two local attorneys specialising in municipal matters.
The attorneys examine the options, as a property owner or manager, in dealing with the situation where the City of Joburg is sending incorrect or estimated bills and which the tenant is disputing.
Attorney Chantelle Gladwin and Jan-Harm Swanepoel, a candidate attorney, co-authored an article which draws heavily from the law of delict, where one can seek compensation for harm done to them.
“When the city incorrectly bills a charge, the bill usually goes to the landlord if the tenant does not have a municipal account. The landlord subsequently passes it along to the tenant, but the question of what happens next remains. Ideally, landlords should assist tenants in raising and pursuing a dispute with the municipality over the improper charge, and tenants should follow through with the dispute,” said Gladwin.
Landlords have the authority to give tenants the power of attorney, which allows tenants to dispute the matter with the municipality directly.
“Remember that we are dealing with an ‘impossible tri- angle’ here, where the account is in the landlord’s name, but it is the tenant who is consuming the services, and would have all of the knowledge pertaining to the dispute,” she said.
Fortunately, for both landlords and tenants, there is some respite: it is illegal for the municipality to disconnect the supply to a property during an ongoing dispute.
However, landlord-tenant co-operation isn’t always the case, especially when leases do not explicitly outline a way to address the improper charges.
One scenario is the landlord demanding strict compliance with the lease, which usually calls on the tenant to satisfy o u t s t a n d i n g m u n i c i p a l accounts but fails to provide a way for the tenant to challenge the
One potential solution is to amend the lease
Strict compliance seems unlawful unless both parties discussed the specific issue of municipal errors prior to entering into the lease, said the attorney.
A potential solution is to amend the lease to include an agreed-upon process on how to resolve the situation.
For tenants dealing with landlords who refuse to hand over power of attorney, Gladwin recommends a variety of solutions. Legal action is a potential recourse as well, through the courts or the Rental Housing Tribunal.
For landlords in the opposite situation, deducting from a tenant’s deposit is a possibility.