Begone, bad tenant

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Ask any landlord and he will tell you that the law protects the tenant far more than it does the homeowner. Ask the average tenant the same question and you're likely to hear that landlords abuse tenants and that the law rightfully protects the owners’ interests.

On the face of things the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act of 1998 does afford the tenant more rights. While it is accepted that some landlords have pushed the boundaries in the past and have used all sorts of unscrupulous methods to evict people from their homes, there are tenants who are using the Act to its full advantage and who essentially squat on a property until they are forced out by the courts.

In these cases, the landlord not only has to deal with the fact that the rent is not being paid and that utility bills are going through the roof, he also has to pay a small fortune in legal fees in order to get the matter heard by a judge.

Law open to abuse

There are numerous stories of tenants milking the situation for all it's worth and indeed there are cases where tenants have taken out restraining orders against their landlords, legally preventing them from setting foot on the property to collect the rent.

It certainly does appear that, as things stand, the law favours the criminal and is open to abuse.

The buy-to-let market has been subdued for a number of years and while the economy may be partly to blame for this, it's not the only reason people are reluctant to enter this segment of the market. It would be fair to say that landlords take a major risk every time they lease out a property to a new tenant. While background and credit checks go a long way towards minimising the risk of dealing with a “bad” tenant, some are virtually guaranteed to slip through the cracks.

Use an attorney

It is highly advisable that landlords who have fallen victim to an unscrupulous tenant not attempt to take matters into their own hands. They should contact an attorney who specialises in evictions as soon as it becomes evident that there is a problem. Under the law, it is illegal for landlords to change locks, turn off any utilities or use force to remove an erring tenant.

Perhaps the time has come for the powers that be to take a fresh look at the law and realise that there are cases where the tenant is abusing his rights and that those who are taking full advantage of the skewed situation need to be penalised. A more balanced approach could well induce more people to create wealth by investing in the buy- to-let market and stop squatters in their tracks.

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