Monthly Archives: July 2018

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).

When can the municipality disconnect my water and electricity?

The municipality is the place where most, if not all, services are monitored for their availability to a property, and it is the very place that may cut off the supply of said services. Their authority does, however, come with the responsibility of remaining within the legal boundaries of managing the supply of services to properties. This article will explore the legalities of disconnecting water or electricity.

Accounts in arrears

If one of your municipal services is in arrears, the municipality is well within their rights to disconnect whatever service when there are undisputed arrears owed to any other service in connection with the related property. Before any disconnection takes place, there is a procedure for the municipality to follow.

Notices

The municipality is legally obligated to give a notice to the person responsible for the account. A minimum of 14 days written notice of termination is required for water and electricity accounts in arrears and if the notice period is shorter than 14 days, or not supplied, the disconnection is illegal. The 14-day notice gives the responsible party an opportunity to present any disputes or queries they may have regarding the account or allow them to repay the arrears.

The query period

Once a query relating to the account has been put in, the municipality may not disconnect services provided that the amount being queried is equal to the amount in arrears. In the case where the amount is less that the amount in arrears, the service may be disconnected for the undisputed amount owing.

Payment of arrears

When a query has been logged, it can only be valid for so long provided that the monthly bill or any other related payments are being made to the respective account. If the responsible person does not make any form of payment, the service may be disconnected even if a logged query exists with the municipality.

State where the payment should go

If there is an account dispute and the responsible person makes a payment to the municipality, the municipality may choose to allocate that money to any account they wish to do so. This means the account in need of the payment may not have the payment made into it. To curb this, the responsible person must notify the municipality, in writing, of the payments being made as well as which account they should be allocated to. This must be done before payment is made.

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).

Can trustees ban your pet in a sectional title scheme?

Problems around the ownership of pets are common amongst owners of sectional title properties, but while laws may be imposed by the trustees of the homeowners’ associations, the requirement for a reasonable approach is entrenched in the very laws which govern how a sectional title scheme should be managed.

Where the trustees have reasonably, after following due process and considering all relevant factors, withdrawn their consent to keep a pet, the owner concerned is then not entitled to continue keeping that pet in the scheme.

This is according to the Prescribed conduct rule 1 in Annexure 9 of the Sectional Titles Regulations which deals with the keeping of pets, including reptiles or birds.

It states:

“1. (1) An owner or occupier of a section shall not, without the consent in writing of the trustees, which approval may not unreasonably be withheld, keep any animal, reptile or bird in a section or on the common property.

(2) When granting such approval, the trustees may prescribe any reasonable condition.”

The phrases, “may not unreasonably” and “may prescribe any reasonable”, clearly seek to assist in the creation of harmony amongst a community living side by side in a sectional title development.

These regulations exist to protect the pet owner from unreasonably strict rules, and equally, they must confer on the other owners the right to a nuisance-free and peaceful environment. This means that both parties need to consider each other’s needs.

This consideration, in granting or refusing consent, will be central to inquiry: will it unreasonably interfere with other’s rights to use and enjoy their units; and which conditions would be appropriate in these circumstances to ensure that the risk of nuisance is reduced to a reasonable level?

For this reason, owners or occupiers can only keep pets in a section or on any part of the common property with the written consent of the trustees. However, the trustees cannot unreasonably withhold that permission. An absolute prohibition to keep a pet could be considered unreasonable and if consent to keep a pet is unreasonably withheld, the owner can take the matter to court.

The trustees must furthermore, base their decision on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. The decision to either grant or refuse consent should be recorded in the minutes of the trustee’s meeting, giving reasons that illustrate they have applied their minds to the particular set of facts.

An example of a court case which arose from a dispute regarding permission to keep a pet in a sectional title development was Body Corporate of The Laguna Ridge Scheme No 152/1987 v Dorse 1999 (2) SA 512 (D), in which it was held that the trustees are obliged to individually consider each request for permission to keep a pet, and to base their decision on the facts and circumstances of each particular case.

A further extract from this case pointed out that trustees are not entitled to refuse an application on the basis that they are afraid of creating a precedent. The trustees were, in this case, found to have been grossly unreasonable and have failed to apply their minds when they refused the Applicant permission to keep a small dog.

The question of the reasonableness of the actions of the trustees, in granting or withholding permission and setting conditions, will turn on the nature of the pet concerned and the circumstances of the scheme. In dealing with any application for permission to keep a pet, the trustees should consider what type of pet it is, and whether there are already other similar pets at the scheme.

It is unlikely that any action by the trustees to remove a ‘companion animal’ or ‘service animal’, such as a guide dog owned by a blind or partially sighted owner, would be held to be reasonable in the absence of a clear nuisance caused by the animal. The fact that a person sometimes forms an extremely strong emotional tie with their pet could also be an important consideration when the trustees decide whether or not to grant permission.

The trustees are not, however, powerless in situations where the conditions of permission to keep a pet are not being met. The trustees can withdraw permission if it is reasonable to do so. Examples include if the pet is causing a nuisance to other owners or occupiers (e.g. barking persistently), or the pet is considered dangerous to other owners or occupiers.

Where the trustees have reasonably, after following due process, withdrawn their consent to keep a pet, the owner concerned is then not entitled to continue keeping that pet in the scheme. However, the enforcement of this could be tricky for the trustees. The body corporate is not entitled to forcibly remove a pet from an owner’s possession. This can only be achieved by a court order, if – for example – there are too many dogs being kept in an inadequate space, the trustees can get the assistance from the local SPCA who can be contacted to come to the scheme to do an inspection in loco. If it is justified, they will implement the necessary legal steps to have the dogs removed.

Careful consideration and the application of the principles as set out in the rules of the scheme and the above-mentioned regulations will lead not only to peaceful co-existence, but also healthy growth in property values for the developments implementing such approach. A harmonious board of trustees results in a happy community, which in turn will ensure a good name for any development.

Reference List:

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).