Author Archives: Toksentjops

Properly executing a will is extremely important

I gave instructions to my attorney to prepare a last will and testament for me as my will no longer reflected my wishes. At my request, my attorney emailed the will to me with clear instructions as to how I should go about signing it. I asked my neighbours to act and sign as witnesses. My neighbours signed the will on all the pages and left before I signed. I then signed the will on all the pages. I am now worried about the validity of my will as the email from my attorney states that I have to sign the will in the presence of two witnesses. Is my will valid?

The formalities for the valid execution of a will are set out in the Wills Act. Section 2 of the Wills Act, Act 7 of 1953, reads: “No will executed… shall be valid unless the will is signed at the end thereof by the testator… and such signature is made by the testator… in the presence of two or more competent witnesses present at the same time and such witnesses attest and sign the will in the presence of the testator and of each other…”. Therefore, in order for a will to be valid, it has to be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses, both witnesses being present when the will is signed by the testator. The two witnesses signed your will in the presence of each other, but not in your presence.

A similar set of facts presented itself in a court case recently heard by the Gauteng Local Division of the High Court. In this matter, the two daughters of the deceased, who lost out on their inheritance in terms of the will of their father, claimed that it was never their father’s intention for his much younger lover to inherit his total estate. The testator was 85 years old at the time of his death and he had been living with a woman 38 years his junior for 8 years.

The deceased executed two wills during his lifetime. One on 6 November 2011 (“the 2011 will”) and another on 7 January 2014 (“the 2014 will”). The 2014 will was signed shortly before his death leaving the bulk of his estate to his much younger lover. The daughters of the deceased claimed the 2014 will was invalid as there were “suspicious” circumstances. They claimed their father either did not sign the 2014 will himself or, if he did, that he lacked the mental capacity to execute a valid will by reason of dementia. The daughters of the deceased were not successful in proving that the deceased’s signature was a forgery despite the fact that three handwriting experts testified.

Another witness called to testify was a witness to the 2014 will. Her testimony focused on the circumstances surrounding the signing of the 2014 will. She signed the will as a witness. She testified that she and her husband met the deceased in the street. As they were acquainted they naturally engaged in social conversation. She and her husband were informed that the deceased was on his way to the police station to sign a will. She and her husband were asked if they would accompany the deceased in order to sign the will as witnesses. They were assured that the process would not take long so they agreed to assist.

She and her husband signed the will and immediately left. They were the first to sign the will. At the time they signed the will the deceased had not signed the will. They left before witnessing the deceased signing the will. Hence, the 2014 will was not signed by the deceased in their presence even though it reflects their respective signatures as witnesses.

The evidence assessed collectively established that the deceased signed the 2011 will and also that he signed the 2014 will. However, the 2014 will was signed by the deceased after the two witnesses to the will had already left and therefore was signed in their absence.

The court referred to Section 2 of the Wills Act in terms whereof no will is valid unless the signature made by the testator is made “in the presence of two or more competent witnesses present at the same time”. The court confirmed that this requirement is mandatory and, if not met, the will is not valid for want of compliance with a statutorily required formality.

The court therefore found the 2014 will to be invalid and, as there was no evidence that there was any irregularity in the execution of the 2011 will, the 2011 will was declared the will of the deceased.

This judgement of the High Court once again emphasizes the importance of complying with the Wills Act. Your will is invalid, and it is advisable for you to print the will again and to sign it in the presence of two competent witnesses or, even better, for you to make an appointment with your attorney in order to sign the will at his office.

Reference List:

  • Twine and Another v Naidoo and Another [2017] ZAGPJHC 288; [2018] 1 All SA 297 (GJ)
  • Wills Act, Act 7 of 1953

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Does South Africa have a public retirement insurance scheme?

My husband’s employer made provision for an occupational retirement vehicle, but my employer refuses to do so. Is there any possible recourse for me in this situation?

There is currently no public retirement insurance scheme in South Africa. This is quite a predicament for most South Africans, as the majority of persons employed in the informal economy would have to rely on an old age grant (which is currently R1, 690.00 and will increase with R10.00 on the 1st of October 2018) rather than occupational retirement. This leaves one with the alternative options of either a private retirement fund or a provident fund.

Some employees are lucky enough to be given the choice between a pension or a provident fund, when they are employed. However, there is no statutory obligation on an employer to provide such a choice to their employee. In the case of a provident fund, the contributions of members are not allowed as tax deductions and, when the member reaches the retirement age, the whole benefit will be paid out in a lump sum. In contrast, with a pension fund, the member gets one third of the total benefit in a cash lump sum and the other two-thirds is paid out in the form of a pension over the rest of the member’s life. The contributions to a pension fund are deductible for tax, which offers the member some tax benefits.

Independent contractors, the self-employed, and other persons who do not qualify to join occupational retirement funds, are left with no other option but to turn to private retirement annuities. The high-income employees also tend to invest their monies in this option to secure a comfortable retirement.

The private retirement scheme option has now taken up the responsibility of a social insurance scheme.

In his budget speech on the 21st of February 2018, the Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba, declared that the old age grant would increase by the 1st of October 2018. This is the last option for those whose retirement plans have failed, or the only option for most informal economy employees or low-income employees.

With the lack of a public retirement insurance scheme, employees who are not fortunate enough to be given the option of an occupational retirement vehicle are left with no other alternative but to turn to a private insurance scheme. This decision is however also dependant on a “practicable” salary. There is currently no statutory obligation on employers to provide for an occupational retirement scheme.

Sources:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

The difficulties in relocating a child of divorced parents

I have divorced my husband and I am now the primary caregiver of our minor child. I received a job offer in another country and I would really like to accept it. My ex-husband and father of my minor child won’t consent to the relocation of our minor child. Will I get permission from the court to relocate?

In the case of relocation disputes where the primary caregiver wants to relocate, there are certain factors the court considers before granting the relocation. These factors are listed in Section 7 of the Children’s Act.

As one can imagine, family law and divorces are difficult topics; especially when minor children are involved. In the event the parties separate, the minor children will need to be in the primary care of one parent and the other parent will have rights and responsibilities in respect of the minor child but does not necessarily have to live with the child.

The issue that arises in situations as outlined above is where the primary care-giver wants to relocate to another country and the other parent won’t give consent (hereafter “the disputing party”). The difficult part of disputes relating to relocation is that there are numerous competing rights. The Children’s Act (“the Act”) regulates and makes provision for those rights.

In order to have a full understanding of the issues that arise here, a breakdown of the various rights should be discussed. Firstly, the right to freedom of movement and association of the primary caregiver may become a problem. Secondly, the rights of the opposing parent to be in contact with the minor child. Lastly, the rights of the minor child are restricted, i.e. the right of the child to maintain personal relations and direct contact with his parents. The infringement of these rights can, by their very nature, turn into a dispute.

Where the dispute cannot be resolved between the parties through negotiation, the parties would rather opt for mediation than litigation. The reason for choosing the former is because of the nature of the dispute – it is a family matter and there are minor children involved. Litigation is a more strenuous route of dispute resolution, thus not the most suitable given the circumstances.

Where the court is tasked with making a ruling in a relocation dispute, there are certain factors the court considers. Section 7 of the Act sets out a list of these factors.

If the parties are divorced, the court will consider whether there is a court order in existence prohibiting the removal of the child from the court’s jurisdiction. In some case, the parties agree in their settlement agreement to never remove the minor children from the Republic of South Africa.

In the event the court has to consider the right to contact with the minor child, the court looks at the meaning of the word “contact” as used in the Children’s Act. It is important to keep in mind that “contact” does not only mean the physical seeing of each other in flesh, but also communications via laptop and/or cell phone. This form of contact is easier to make use of in our era.

The court will consider the reason for the relocation as a factor in these matters. The reason for this consideration is because the best interest of the child is of utmost importance. If the reason for relocation is, for example, to contribute to the child’s education or safety (something that would be considered positive), the court is likely to be more pleased.

The court will also consider the relationship the child has with the parents. If the opposing parent has a great relationship with the minor child and sees the child every alternate weekend or holiday and will now only be able to email the child- the court will have to consider this and the possible influence the absence of the opposing party would have on the minor child, if relocation is granted.

This will also become clearer when the court considers the choice of the minor to relocate or not.

The court also considers the stability factor. This includes the court considering the life outside the home of the minor. It is important to know whether the child is happy where he/she is, how well the child does at school, whether he/she has family members living nearby and whether he/she visits on a regular basis.

As with the conflicting rights of the parties, the court kept the best interest of the child in mind, whilst considering the above mentioned factors. The court in the AC v KC case also applied the “reasonable person’s test” and the court held that “one must think oneself into the shoes of the proverbial bonus paterfamilias or the reasonable man”. Even though the reasonable person test was used in AC v KC, the best interest of the child is the most important factor.

Reference list:

  • Children’s Act 38 of 2005
  • A.C. v K.C. (A 389/08) [2008] ZAGPHC 369
  • Jackson v Jackson (18/2001) [2001] ZASCA 139

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Am I still protected without an employment contract

This article looks at the continued relevancy of the employment contract in legal practice today. In 2014, the legislator amended section 186(1)(a) of the Labour Relations Act, 66 of 1995 (LRA), which deals with unfair dismissals, by removing the words “contract of” within the definition, leaving only the word “employment”. This gives the idea that the legislator accepts that the employment relationship goes beyond just the employment contract.

On being offered employment, not everyone tends to ask for an employment contract first, yet the employment contract is the first thing everyone turns to when the employment relationship turns sour. It was accepted that the contract of employment is the cornerstone of the employment relationship. It links the employer and the employee in an employment relationship.

The initial idea was that the contract of employment regulates all aspects of the employment relationship. However, in practice this is not the reality. The employment relationship tends to go beyond just the contract of employment. This is because of statutory intervention, collective contracts, customs, and practices as well as common law implied terms which are often read into the contract. In terms of the section 186(1)(a) of the LRA, the old definition of dismissal was defined as the termination of the employment contract with or without notice. To accommodate the abovementioned factors, the legislator amended the section, expanding the definition of a dismissal to entail more than just the termination of the contract of employment.

This begs the question: do you need to sign an employment contract to be protected by labour legislation in South Africa?

The Labour Relations Amendment Act, 6 of 2014 (LRAA) changed the definition of dismissal in terms of section 186(1)(a) of the LRA. This means that the test for a dismissal will now hinge on whether employment or the employment relationship is terminated. This change from the contract of employment to just employment and/or employment relationship is also noticeable in section 186(1)(e) and (f).

So, what is meant by employment relationship? The contract of employment contains most of the terms and expected duties of both the employer and employee but it seldom happens that it covers the full spectrum of the employment relationship. Some obligations and rights are derived from a variety of sources, including the common law, collective bargaining, statutes, custom and practices, and in some instances, oral contracts between the employer and the employee. Other factors which may be taken into account, such as the employee’s obedience, care, economic dependency between the parties, fidelity, and the employer’s duty of care towards the employee, are not often referred to in the contract of employment. Initially, when employees entered into the contract, these rights and obligations may not have seemed as important but may have later turned out to be the core of a dispute. Therefore, there was a need for the concept to go beyond that of just the contract of employment, as it needed to cover the full scope of the practical realities of the workplace.

The world of work has changed over the years and employers always try to bypass labour legislation, which means that working arrangements may go beyond the employment contract and the protection provided for in labour legislation should also adapt. In Denel (Pty) Ltd v Gerber 2005 9 BLLR 849 (LAC) the court held: “In this regard it is important to bear in mind that a contract between any two persons may represent form and not substance or may not reflect the realities of a relationship…”

In State Information Technology Agency (SITA) (Pty) Ltd v CCMA & others 2008 7 BLLR 611 (LAC) the Labour Appeal Court also used the “reality test” to determine an employment relationship. In WL Ochse Webb & Pretorius (Pty) Ltd v Vermeulen 1997 18 ILJ (SA) 361 (LAC) the court highlighted that neither the employer nor employee benefit from the employment contract when it is “cast in stone”.

The legislator has now shifted the focus to the abstract relationship between the employer and employee, rather than just focusing on the contract between them. This amendment changes the entire idea we had about the employment relationship, even expanding the protection offered by labour legislation.

Reference List:

  • AC Basson, MA Christinason, A Dekker, C Garbers, PAK Le Roux, C Mischke & EML Strydom Essential Labour  Law 5 ed (2009).
  • A van Niekerk, MA Christianson, M McGregor & BPS Van Eck Law@Work 3 ed (2015).
  • A Rycroft & B Jordaan A Guide to South African Labour Law 2 ed (1992).
  • JAM Coyle-Shapiro, LM Shore, MS Taylor & LE Tetrick The Employment Relationship: Examining Psychlogical and Contextual Perspectives (2004).
  • Denel (Pty) Ltd v Gerber 2005 9 BLLR 849 (LAC).
  • State Information Technology Agency (SITA) (Pty) Ltd v CCMA & others 2008 7 BLLR 611 (LAC).
  • WL Ochse Webb & Pretorius (Pty) Ltd v Vermeulen 1997 18 ILJ (SA) 361 (LAC).

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Before leasing, include these in the agreement

If you consider leasing out your property, it is important not to overlook any requirement and expectations you may have of the incoming tenant. A basic lease agreement should at least have the below stipulated in detail:

  1. Basic information

This includes the details of those who are party to the agreement, the address of the property being leased out, and the lease period.

  1. A deposit and other fees

The purpose of a deposit is to ensure that, should there be any damages to a property due to the tenant’s fault, they could be repaired without the landlord incurring the expenses or waiting for the tenant to pay for said damages. The deposit amount must be stated in the agreement and is payable to the tenant, after damages have been deducted, when the lease agreement has been terminated.

  1. Responsibilities, repairs and maintenance of the premises

Landlords are not able to oversee everything the tenant does, and this is where the responsibility and maintenance clause comes in. If the property’s utilities will be included in the rent, it should be stipulated and not assumed. The general upkeep, such as mowing the lawn or cleaning the pool, must be stated as to whom will be responsible for it. Saying it orally will not suffice because if it is not in writing, it’s easy to challenge it.

  1. Subletting and limits on occupancy

All the adults who will be living on the premises should be party to the agreement; their names, details and signatures must be provided. This allows for the landlord to determine who may live on the property and serves as proof that these are the occupants that he/she has approved.

  1. Rent payment

If this is not on the lease, then living on the property is obviously free. Unless this is intended, the rent payable must be included in the agreement. In addition, details regarding the amount, date to be paid, acceptable payment methods, and repercussions of failing to meet these requirements, must be included.

  1. Termination of lease

The terms that warrant a lease to be terminated must be included in the agreement.

  1. Pets

A landlord cannot just assume that a tenant will not have pets. If pets are allowed, descriptive limitations and restrictions must be included as well.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

There is a way to keep the view

When you purchase a house with a view, you probably think that you are going to enjoy this view every day for the rest of your life. Until you receive a flyer with a picturesque multi-story building guaranteed to block your view. This will definitely result in a few disputes that will leave you wishing you had secured your view.

Right to the view

Just because the property has an unrestricted view, it does not mean that the view is the owner’s. To secure it, a registration of a servitude against the title deeds of the properties in the Deeds Office. This includes the natural growth of trees or plants that will block the view over time.

The registered servitude

The registration of the servitude must be made clear where the intentions of the servitude are established and made clear. This is so that when an issue regarding property views reaches the court, the court would need not be concerned about ambiguity and surrounding circumstances.

Court’s considerations

Before reaching a decision, the court may be mindful of considerations when the servitude is interpreted. The result will try, as far as possible, to alleviate burdens on the servient property owner. Emphasis is placed on views and the purpose of the servitude as to provide unobstructed views as they existed at the time of the creation of the servitude.

A new property owner may have to consider the type of building they are wishing to erect so it does not impose on any restrictions in terms of an agreement made by the “owner” of the view.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Court interference in a contractual relationship

When two or more parties enter into a contractual agreement knowingly and free from duress, the terms of the agreement must be upheld by each signatory. However, it must be noted when the contract is entered into under pacta sunt servanda, which means “agreements must be kept”, principles of fairness, good faith and reasonableness don’t play a part when circumstances leading to contract breach arise.

With regards to property law, for example, if a lease agreement states a date on which rental is due, then the party responsible for making this payment should meet this obligation. Failing to do so could enable the lessor to cancel the signed lease without notice and retake the property. Genuinely, because the lessee had agreed to the clause by signing the contract, that would then mean that they agree on the grounds of cancellation.

But if the late payment was due to circumstances beyond the lessee’s control, does the cancellation clause still stand?

If the lessee does not oblige with the lease cancellation, the lessor may approach a court to deliver judgement on the agreement and serve a notice of eviction. The lessee may argue that they acted in good faith and that the matter was beyond their control. The lessee may also argue that the implementation of the pacta sunt servanda principle varies from case to case and should be determined by the circumstances surrounding breach of the lease.

If the court chooses to hand down judgement based on the lessee’s argument, it is incorrect due to the freedom each party had when entering into a contractual agreement. Each party has bargaining power and should have, before signing, ensured that any possible errors were taken into account. Good faith and fairness don’t play a part when it comes to an agreement and a court cannot base that as the reason why the lessor should not have cancelled the lease.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Am I prejudiced by an arbitration clause in my building contract?

Contracts for the building of a house or providing for substantial alterations to a house commonly contain an arbitration clause. This article looks at the advantages of resolving disputes relating to building contracts by arbitration rather than by litigation in the courts.

I had a written contract with a builder to make substantial alterations to my house. I was very unhappy about how the work was done and I then went to consult my attorney with a view to taking the builder to court. My attorney informed me that the contract contained an arbitration clause which required all disputes relating to the contract to be referred to arbitration. When I signed the contract with the builder, my attention was not drawn to the arbitration clause and I had no idea what the consequences were.

As a general point of departure, before entering into a contract with another party it is important to understand all the contractual terms, including the arbitration clause. An arbitration clause requires the parties to refer their dispute for resolution outside the courts to a private arbitrator appointed by or on behalf of the parties. The arbitrator, who is required to be impartial and independent, must decide the dispute by fairly considering the parties’ evidence and arguments. The decision of the arbitrator, referred to as an award, is final and binding on the parties and can only be reviewed by a court for serious procedural irregularities. There is therefore no right of appeal to the court if a party disagrees with the arbitrator’s decision on the merits. The client could approach the High Court to have the arbitration agreement set aside, but this will be expensive and time-consuming. The client will have to show “compelling reasons” why the arbitration agreement should be set aside. The client must also be aware that arbitration offers certain advantages.

What are the advantages of arbitration instead of litigating in court?

In this context, arguably the most important benefit is the opportunity to appoint an arbitrator with specialised knowledge of building disputes. The right arbitrator will have experience in resolving such disputes. If the parties cannot agree on an arbitrator when the dispute arises, the arbitration clause will typically confer the power on a specified institution to appoint the arbitrator. It is preferable that the appointing body should be a specialist arbitral institution, which will ensure that the appointee has experience in building disputes and has the necessary training as an arbitrator. Non-specialist appointing bodies tend to appoint a person from their own profession, irrespective of that person’s training and experience as an arbitrator.

Another important advantage of arbitration compared to litigation is its flexibility. Because arbitration is based on an agreement, the parties under the direction of the arbitrator can design a process tailor-made for their dispute, instead of being bound by rigid court rules. This should result in the arbitration being considerably quicker and also less expensive than litigation. The relative informality of the process compared to a court means that arbitration is less traumatic for the parties and is less damaging for their relationship. The confidentiality of the process and the award can be another advantage.

The Arbitration Act of 1965 requires an arbitration agreement to be in writing, but it does not need to be signed by the parties. The purpose of this written agreement is to provide a record of its contents rather than to prove consent. At the time the contract is entered into, the home owner must ensure that the building contractor is registered as a home builder under the Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act of 1998. If the builder is not registered, this can affect the validity of the building contract and deprive the homeowner of statutory protections.

The arbitrator will typically convene a preliminary meeting with the parties and their legal representatives as soon as practicable after the arbitrator’s appointment. By that stage, from the client’s request for arbitration and the builder’s response, the arbitrator will have a fair idea regarding what the dispute is about. It is at this stage that the arbitrator can design an appropriate procedure to resolve the dispute, which will differ significantly from that used in court. The arbitrator may even suggest that the parties consider allowing the arbitrator to mediate their dispute.

Reference List:

  • Arbitration Act 42 of 1965 s 1 “arbitration agreement”; s 3(2) regarding the court’s power to set aside the arbitration agreement.
  • The Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act 95 of 1998, s 10(b).
  • Regarding the purpose of the agreement being in writing, see the International Arbitration Act 15 of 2017 schedule 1, article 7(3).
  • Regarding how a court should exercise its discretion under s 3(2) of the Arbitration Act, see De Lange v Methodist Church 2016 2 SA 1(CC); [2015] ZACC 35, paras 34-37.
  • Regarding the need for the contractor to be registered as a home builder, see Cool Ideas 1186 CC v Hubbard 2014 4 SA 474 (CC).

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

How binding are body corporate fines?

In an estate or sectional title scheme, it is challenging to ensure that everyone will stick to the conduct rules and to aid this, body corporates often fine the chancers. How far can the body corporates stretch their fining, and are these fines binding?

Each body corporate may choose what to impose formally in their code of conduct unless a rule is already part of the conduct rules in terms of the Sectional Titles Act. This is the only way the fines can be binding as enforceable, and they have to be reasonable and fair.

When fines are imposed, they cannot favour or benefit certain residents while leaving others out of mind. Substantially, they must serve the same purpose. The notification of a fine must be received by the owner or resident through writing. There is a correct way in which fines may be imposed:

  1. Complainants to lodge complaint

This must be lodged in writing or through an incident report to the trustees or the estate’s managing agent.

  1. Notice of particulars of the complaint

The owner and the tenant, or the resident, must be given a notice of the particulars contained in the complained as well as reasonable time to respond to the complaint. The resident/tenant must also be given enough information regarding the incident, including the rules that they may have broken.

  1. Second notice

Should the owner or resident not heed the first notice, a second notice may be issued mentioning the contravention is continuous or has been repeated. The transgressor must then be invited to a trustee meeting where they will be given a platform to present their case or defend themselves.

  1. The hearing before the fine

Before a fine is imposed, a hearing must have taken place. In the meeting, witnesses may be called to testify in favour of the transgressor and the transgressor may state their side of the story. Those who laid the complaint may also be cross-examined.

  1. Discussing evidence

Once the hearing is over, the trustees may then review the evidence presented to them and make a decision on whether or not to impose the fine.

If a fine is imposed, the amount should be reasonable, substantial and be proportionate to the purpose of the penalty.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Rental rights during the water crisis

As a constitutional right, everyone should have access to clean water. Even during a water crisis. In cases where there is a signed agreement between a tenant and landlord pertaining to the supply of water, the obligations stated in the rental agreement should be met by the respective party. Should one of the parties fail to oblige, the agreement may be terminated. Parties to this contract should, however, understand the changes that come with crises.

Common law recognises any crises that could not have been halted or anticipated as “An Act of God”. These are the rights pertaining to rental agreements during a water crisis:

  • Ongoing water supply:

If the municipality reduces water supply, tenant may not cancel lease agreement or claim reduced rental.

  • Services supplied to tenant (swimming pool, sprinklers etc.):

Should day zero come and water supply is cut off, landlords may not continue charging tenants for these services if they are no longer available.

  • Reduced utility charges:

Tenants are within their rights to negotiate that their utilities amount be reduced to account for what the landlord would be paying on their behalf.

  • Municipal bills and fines:

The landlord must pay these to avoid water supply being cut off for the tenant. The landlord may claim that money back from the tenant.

  • Maintenance responsibilities (refilling the pool, watering gardens etc.):

Tenants are exempt from complying with these responsibilities if they contravene with water restrictions.

The water crisis, which has affected mostly the Western Cape, has seen the municipality put restrictions on water usage, cut water supply at certain times of the day, and increase the water rates. Most lease agreements make provision for the responsibility of water usage – the tenant could either be billed monthly, or the rental amount could be water inclusive. If the water bill is the tenant’s responsibility, then they will be liable for the increased water prices. If the rental amount is fixed, any fluctuation in the water bill will be absorbed by the landlord.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).