Tag Archives: Tenants

Is the tenant or landlord responsible for the water leaks?

Questions, and sometimes disputes, often arise between landlords and tenants regarding where the responsibility lies with the maintenance of a property. The simple answer is that tenants can generally only be held responsible for repairs/replacement on the property if the damage was caused by the tenant’s actions, or items that have a short life span, such as light bulbs.

On the other hand, alarm systems, auto gates and doors, locks, fixtures and fittings, appliances, or anything provided to the tenant are generally the responsibility of the owner to repair, unless damaged by the tenant.

Fair wear and tear

Damage due to fair wear and tear is the owner’s responsibility to correct. This includes situations where the property has, over time, experienced wear due to its use or age.

Examples would include:

  1. Fireplace chimneys: The landlord should maintain the fireplace e.g. having the chimney cleaned at appropriate intervals. Gardens, however, would require the tenant to do general maintenance.
  2. Blocked drains: This is usually due to tenant usage making it the tenant’s responsibility, but if blockage is due to tree roots, it would be the landlord’s responsibility.

Regarding appliances, as with any fixture or fitting, the landlord is responsible for repairs to appliances provided under the tenancy agreement unless the damage was caused by the tenant’s deliberate actions or negligence.

Tenants should report any damage on the property. If they fail to do this, they could find themselves held liable for any further damage due to lack of immediate attention to the initial problem. Furthermore, tenants are obliged to provide access for contractors to effect repairs.

Conclusion

If there is a water leak on the property, it would most likely be the landlord’s responsibility to fix. It is advisable for tenants to read and understand the lease agreement fully and for landlords to list as much as possible that needs to be maintained by the tenant. For example, if the unit has a garden that the tenant is responsible for maintaining, this should be mentioned in the lease.

References:

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)

Cancelling a lease agreement early

If you want to end your contract early, this can only be done “in situations where the Consumer Protection Act or Rental Housing Act apply” – or if there’s a clause in the contract that allows for early cancellation, or if both parties agree to it.

If, on the other hand, one of the parties wants to cancel because the other is in breach of the contract, then certain notice periods come into effect – the first of which being, of course, that the aggrieved party is required to “give written notice for the breach to be remedied. Failure to remedy the breach in the stipulated time period, will entitle the innocent party to cancel the lease and (where relevant) claim damages suffered from the offending party.”

A tenant has the RIGHT to cancel a lease agreement, be it in the 1st month, 4th month or second-to-last month of the lease agreement. He cannot be ‘punished’ for doing this and the cancellation does not constitute a breach of the lease agreement.

 What must an agent do if a tenant decides to cancel?

  1. Obtain the cancellation in writing from the tenant.
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  2. Ensure the cancellation gives the requisite 20 business days’ notice.
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  3. Charge rental until the end of the 20 business days (even if this is not a full month’s rental).
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  4. Log on to TPN and end the lease as at the end of the 20 business days.
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  5. Keep in mind the lease now ends as at the end of that 20 business days.
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  6. Should the tenant remains in the premises a new lease MUST be signed as once cancelled, a lease cannot be revived at law. If you fail to do this, you essentially have no long-term lease in place.
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  7. Begin advertising the property immediately- the onus is on the agent/landlord to find a replacement.
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  8. Keep all invoices from the advertising as this is one of the costs you may pass along to the tenant in terms of a ‘reasonable cancellation penalty’.

 What can an agent charge the tenant that cancels early?

The idea behind this reasonable cancellation penalty is not to penalise the tenant, but to recover any actual loss suffered by the landlord as a result of the cancellation. The following cost could be applicable:

  1. Credit check costs for any prospective replacement tenants (even those who are not accepted);
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  2. Advertising costs (only the actual amounts on the invoices);
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  3. Rental – the exact number of days that the unit remains vacant after the tenant vacates.

It is important to keep in mind that all calculations of the penalty can only be made once a replacement tenant has been found. It must also be kept in mind that where a tenant cancels, for example, in month 10 or 11 of a 12-month lease, you cannot charge the tenant the full remainder of the lease as this would negate the cancellation. The principles behind cancellation penalties lie in our law of undue enrichment. A landlord/agent cannot make a financial gain or benefit off of a tenant’s cancellation.

References:

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 can I lawfully evict my tenant?

A3_bYou’ve discovered that the tenant renting your apartment has damaged several appliances, including the floor tiles due to irresponsible behaviour. Therefore, you have decided to terminate the lease contract and evict the tenant. Are you allowed to do that and how do you get started?

Firstly, there has to be valid reasons to evict a tenant, such as the example above. Even if you do have a valid reason to pursue eviction, a legal process has to be followed if you want to stay within the law. The first step is to cancel the lease contract with the tenant and let the tenant know that it’s cancelled and the reasons why. After the contract is terminated, the tenant would be occupying the premises illegally. You can then go to a court with an eviction application or “ejectment order”. When you do this you will be required to prove that the contract with the tenant was properly terminated and that the reasons for doing so were valid.

It’s important to make sure the reasons you want to evict the tenant are valid. This is because tenants are protected by the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act, No. 19 of 1998. You cannot just evict a tenant because you don’t like them.

Other grounds for an eviction

Besides a tenant causing serious damage to a property there are two other grounds for an eviction. The obvious one is the tenant not paying his/her rent after having been told to do so. Another reason is the tenant using the property for anything other than was agreed upon in the contract. A tenant who opens a business in the apartment they are renting would be in breach of their contract if it was agreed to be rented for residential purposes only.

What happens at the court?

The eviction application can be taken to the Magistrate’s Court or the High Court. Court proceedings will follow, which the tenant should be notified about. It’s very likely that the tenant will deny any wrongdoing and say the eviction doesn’t have good grounds. If this is the case, they can inform the court. A dispute and court case may ensue, the outcome of which would depend on the evidence of what happened. Therefore, if you are considering evicting a tenant, make sure your reasons are clear and that there is evidence for the eviction. If the tenant broke property on your premises because of being irresponsible, then that could be solid evidence.

Dealing with the tenant

The tenant may agree that they have done something wrong or simply decided not to oppose the eviction, in which case the court would issue an ejectment order. The ejectment order will force the tenant to leave the property, which will be carried out by the Sheriff of the Court. It’s important to remember that the landlord is not allowed to personally remove tenants from their premises. Leave that to the authorities. Furthermore, the court may order the tenant to pay the legal costs of the landlord.

Reference:

Anderson, AM. Dodd, A. Roos, MC. 2012. “Everyone’s Guide to South African Law. Third Edition”. Zebra Press.

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)