Author: My Lawyer (page 1 of 20)

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)

ARE FATHERS ENTITLED TO PATERNAL LEAVE?

Fathers could spend up to two weeks with their newborn babies, while adoptive parents and parents-to-be via surrogacy, could get up to 10 weeks of leave. This is due to the latest Labour Laws Amendment Bill 2017 (“amendment bill”), which was passed by the National Assembly in November 2017.

The current labour legislation provides that fathers who want to stay home with their newborn babies have to take family responsibility leave, which is limited to three days per annual cycle, or they must take their own annual leave for this purpose. They are only entitled to family responsibility leave once they have been employed for four months and work for at least four days a week. The current law also makes no provision for paternity leave for adoption parents or fathers-to-be via surrogacy. A mother is entitled to unpaid maternity leave of up to four months and she may also claim from UIF for 17-weeks during this period.

The position regarding paternal leave has, however, drastically changed since the end of last year. On 28 November 2017, the National Assembly passed the Labour Laws Amendment Bill. The amendment bill regulates the rights of fathers in taking paternal leave when their child is born. In terms of the amendment bill, fathers will be entitled to 10 days paternal leave on the birth of a child. In addition, the amendment bill provides for 10 weeks adoption leave for one parent when adopting a child under the age of two and ten weeks “commissioning parent leave” when an employee’s child is born by means of a surrogacy arrangement. The amendment bill also increases unemployment insurance benefits from 238 days to 365 days and increases maternity benefits to 66% of the earnings of the employee at the date of the application for unemployment insurance benefits.

Five things you need to know about the amendment bill:

  1. Fathers’ paternity leave could be up to two weeks

An employee who is a parent and not entitled to maternity leave, will now be entitled to 10 consecutive working days parental leave when that employee’s child is born. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (BCEA) still provides that mothers are entitled to take maternity leave for up to four months.

  1. A father must have his name on the child’s birth certificate to qualify

Fathers must have their names on the newborn child’s birth certificate in order to apply for paternal leave. The purpose for this is to prevent dishonesty and ensure that the amendment bill cannot be used and abused.

  1. Adoptive parents and parents via surrogacy could get up to 10 weeks of parental leave

An employee who is an adoptive parent of a child less than two years old, is entitled to adoption leave of ten weeks consecutively. In the case of two adoptive parents, one of the employees is entitled to adoption leave and the other to parental leave. The same provision applies for parents-to-be via surrogacy.

  1. Family responsibility leave falls away

The father of a newborn may take three days family responsibility leave in terms of the BCEA –– but under the amendment bill, this no longer applies.

  1. The amendment bill might come into effect by June 2018

The amendment bill will be referred to the National Council of Provinces and if passed, will be submitted to the president for assent. This new amendment bill will bring South Africa in line with other countries, many of which offer between one to four weeks’ paternity leave.

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)

Reference List:

CANCELLING A CONTRACT?

Every person, whether an individual or a juristic person, will find themselves in a situation where they will want to terminate a contract. The aim of this article is to set out the requirements for terminating a contract as well as to give basic guidance when doing so.

When a person wants to cancel a contract, the cancelling party (innocent party) will have a choice to either cancel the contract or to enforce it. This article refers to the innocent party and the party in breach. The reader must however remember that fault it not a requirement for breach of contract.

The law regards breach of a contract as a wrongful act in itself which allows the innocent party to cancel the contract. It is important to remember that cancelling a contract is an extreme remedy that is only available in exceptional circumstances, namely where there is a cancellation clause or where the breach of contract is material or serious. If the contract is however silent on cancellation, the innocent party may still cancel the contract provided that the said breach is material or serious in nature.

The point of departure when cancelling a contract is to determine what the exact terms of the contract are, i.e. if the contract has a cancellation clause or not and whether there is a date of performance or not.

If the contract has a cancellation clause, the innocent party will be able to cancel the contract in the event of a breach of a term thereto. The innocent party must however take care not to cancel the contract incorrectly, otherwise the party in breach may interpret the cancellation as a repudiation of the contract, in which case the party in breach will also have the right to cancel the contract.

In the event where the contract does not have a cancellation clause, the innocent party will only be able to cancel the contract if the breach is material in nature. What constitutes a material breach depends on the terms of the contract. According to South African case law, a material breach is one which goes to the root of the contract and constitutes a breach of a vital term thereto.

Depending on the type of breach, the innocent party might have to give the party in breach notice of same. This will be the case where there is no date of performance specified in the contract. The innocent party must then demand performance by giving the party in breach reasonable notice to perform before he will be able to cancel the contract.

On the flip side, if a date of performance is specified in the contract, and a party does not perform in time and as stipulated, that party will be in breach, otherwise referred to as being in mora. It does however not automatically give rise to the right to cancel the contract. The only instance where there will be an automatic right to cancel a contract is if there is a cancellation clause or a suspensive condition in the contract.

A contract containing a suspensive condition will terminate automatically unless the suspensive condition is fulfilled or waived. If there is not a cancellation clause in the contract and no date of performance, the innocent party must give notice to the party in breach that time is of the essence and give him a reasonable time to perform.

In summary, the requirements for cancelling a contract vary according to the terms thereto, the type of contract and the factual scenario. There are no formalities for cancelling a contract unless the parties otherwise agree and/or a statute (i.e. Alienation of Land Act and the National Credit Act) prescribes same.

Other requirements include that the innocent party must give reasonable notice to the party in breach that they are cancelling the contract, which cancellation becomes effective from the time the cancellation comes to the attention of the party in breach.

The consequences of cancelling a contract are that the obligations to perform terminate and the parties are obligated to return what has been performed. If both parties agree to the cancellation, the preferred route would be to enter into a cancellation agreement, setting out what needs to be returned, claims for damages etcetera.

Considering that each contract and factual scenario differs and will be judged and interpreted accordingly, readers are advised to obtain legal counsel before cancelling a contract.

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)

Reference List:

  • “Contract: General Principles” by Van Der Merwe, Van Huyssteen, Reinecke & Lubbe 2004 (Juta Law)

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)

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.

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)

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).

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)

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)

UNLAWFULLY EVICTED? HERE’S A PIECE OF PIE

Unless the sheriff of the court has evicted you, you should remain right where you are. If anyone else carries out an eviction, it constitutes as unlawful according to the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land (PIE) Act.

Regarding the eviction process, the PIE Act stipulates this:

  • Certain procedures must be followed
  • Notice of the intention of getting a court order must be given to the tenant
  • The landowner or landlord must apply to the court to have a written notice served on the tenant
  • The notice must be served at least 14 days before the hearing

The Rental Housing Tribunal (RHT) works alongside the Rental Housing Act, fostering the relationship between landlords and tenants to be one of fairness in terms of lease agreements and any unlawful evictions and unlawful notices to vacate. From the moment the lease agreement terms have been breached, for example, the tenant fails to make rent payments, the landlord may cancel the agreement and the tenant then becomes an illegal occupier.

The PIE Act states that no one may be without property except in terms of law of general application.  Arbitrary deprivation of property from any person is unlawful. Additionally:

  • no one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances;
  • it is desirable that the law should regulate the eviction of unlawful occupiers from land in a fair manner, while recognising the right of land owners to apply to a court for an eviction order in appropriate circumstances;
  • special consideration should be given to the rights of the elderly, children, disabled persons and particularly households headed by women, and it should be recognised that the needs of those groups should be considered.

The notice does not guarantee that the unlawful tenant will leave the premises as the court can only grant eviction if it is just and equitable. The owner must also have reasonable grounds for eviction and alternative accommodation available to the tenant.

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)

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)

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