Beware the Erring Tenant

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

There are many South African landlords who have good relationships with their tenants. Unfortunately, there are also a large number who do not. Renting out property should be a win-win situation for all. The homeowner pays off his bond and the tenant has a roof over his head that he isn’t necessarily in a position to buy himself.

Strangely enough, although you would think that the first thing a tenant would do after receiving a pay cheque is to pay the rent, this often isn’t the case. The most worrying part of it all is that SA laws are making it increasingly easy for defaulters to get away with defaulting on rent for longer periods of time, leaving landlords feeling powerless. The adage “a leopard does not change its spots” appears to be a fairly accurate analogy for erring tenants – some of whom appear to make a habit of moving from one debt-ridden household to the next. While some will always find a way of slipping through the cracks and continue to rip off unsuspecting landlords, there are ways for landlords to protect themselves long before these reprobates set foot over the threshold.

Marlon Shevelew from Marlon Shevelew and Associates says that, generally speaking, the first indications that something is amiss become evident fairly quickly. These include late rental on at least two occasions in any fixed rental period, an inability to pay the required deposit, non-rental payment, evasiveness or providing excuses for rental not being paid on time, among others.

Landlords should be extremely wary of any prospective tenant who cannot afford to pay the deposit. The dangers associated with someone who is literally not able to put his money where his mouth is cannot be over-emphasised. Regardless of any excuses, essentially if a tenant cannot afford to pay a deposit as well as the first month’s rent, he should be looking at a more affordable option.

Although every situation is different and there are often valid reasons for late payment offered by tenants, landlords should view these excuses with caution, particularly if they occur more than once. When it becomes evident that the tenant cannot afford to pay rent, landlords need to act as quickly as possible, in order to keep their losses to a minimal.

Shevelew says that the way landlords deal with errant tenants often depends on whether the owner is wholly dependent on the rental in order to pay the bond or not. In the case where the landlord needs the rent to meet bond commitments the reaction is often far more dramatic than those who can afford to let things slide…for a while. Regardless of how urgent the matter is, landlords need to act quickly and decisively. Shevelew says that very often a simple phone call or conciliatory letter reminding the tenant of his contractual obligations may suffice, but this all depends on the nature of the tenant. “Each matter needs to be dealt with carefully as a conflict of personalities will not allow for resolution on an amicable basis.” Usually a phone call or letter as mentioned above will kick-start things. If not, a letter of demand is imperative.

However, once it becomes apparent that the tenant is not in a position to pay the rent, landlords must send a letter of demand. Shevelew says, “A tenant can only be evicted if he is an unlawful occupier in terms of the PIE Act. A person can only be an unlawful occupier if they have lost their status as a tenant. That status is only lost if a demand for payment has been delivered to the tenant, the tenant has not paid, and the tenant’s lease has been cancelled as result. Armed with this correspondence, the matter is ripe for an eviction application should the tenant not have vacated voluntarily.” According to Shevelew, it takes two to three months to lawfully evict a defaulting tenant when the matter is unopposed in court.

However, the process does take longer if the tenant opposes the matter. “The reason for the delay is that there are statutory time limits in the PIE Act which affords the tenant an opportunity to oppose proceedings, time for papers to be served on the unlawful occupier and the local municipality and of course the time period given by the presiding magistrate or judge for the tenant to find alternative accommodation upon the eviction order being granted.”

Crying over spilt milk is not an option and certainly isn’t going to pay the rent. Finding a good solid citizen, who will take their obligations seriously, is an absolute must in today’s rental market.

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