The national lockdown has led to the reduction of household income for many South Africans, leaving many tenants unable to afford their rent. In these trying times, and with everyone spending more time trapped indoors, it is understandable how disputes can arise between a tenant and his or her landlord. In times such as these, landlords and tenants can seek council from the Rental Housing Tribunal (RHT).
Made up of members who have been appointed by the Provincial Minister of Housing and who have experience with housing management, development and rental housing, the RHT is tasked with implementing the Rental Housing Act and assists in resolving disputes that arise between landlords and tenants. The RHT deals with all aspects relating to a tenancy, such as verbal or written lease agreement disputes, the rights and duties of each party, deposit refunds, rental defaults, damage to the rental property, utilities, eviction and house rules, to name a few.
“The primary function of the Rental Housing Tribunal is to mediate and settle disputes that tenants and landlords cannot resolve amicably. The RHT will inform landlords and tenants of both their rights and obligations regarding the Rental Housing Act, and will then investigate and mediate the situation at hand to reach a resolution by making recommendations to the relevant parties,” explains Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, Adrian Goslett.
Anyone who has a vested interest in a rental property may lodge a complaint with the RHT. According to Goslett, the service that the RHT provides is free to landlords and tenants, and each party may represent themselves in the matter, so there is no need to incur legal costs. “Lodging a complaint requires the petitioner to make contact with the relevant RHT office that has authority in the area in which the home is situated. Legislation dictates that the complaint must be in writing. The provincial offices each have different complaint forms on which the complaints are to be lodged. The complaints can be lodged by either registered mail or fax. It is advisable that once the complaint has been submitted, the complainant follows up to ensure that it reached the right person,” Goslett recommends.
Once a case is opened, a reference number will be allocated to the matter before a preliminary investigation is conducted. The investigation will be to determine whether the complaint relates to a dispute in respect of a matter which may constitute an unfair practice – this must be determined within 30 days of receiving the complaint. To define this, the RHT may require additional information from either the complainant or respondent. In certain instances, an inspector may be appointed to inspect the property in question and compile a report on the complaint.
“If the investigation deems that there was an unfair practice, all parties will be informed in writing that the case has been opened and a date and time has been set for mediation. The mediation is an informal, confidential meeting where the landlord and tenant will meet to discuss their issues in the presence of a trained, experienced mediator. The mediator will remain impartial and will assist the parties to come to a mutually acceptable solution to their problem. The landlord and tenant will be the ones who make the final decision with regards to the mediation agreement – not the mediator. Once the parties have reached an agreement, it is possible for the agreement to be made an order of the court. If no agreement is reached at the informal mediation, the matter will be referred to a formal hearing for the ruling,” Goslett explains.