How to manage maintenance issues with your landlord

Private Property South Africa
Veronica Logan

Renting a property can be a cost-effective and simple option when it comes to choosing which route to go property-wise, but what do you do when you feel that your landlord isn’t fulfilling their maintenance obligations?

So, you’ve signed the lease and moved into your rental but as time goes on, it’s becoming more and more apparent that your landlord is neglecting their property or not holding up their side of the deal when it comes to maintenance. It can be tricky knowing what to do or what steps you as a tenant can take to ensure that your landlord upholds their commitment to you and the property. With this in mind, we’ve outlined some key steps below to help guide you if you ever find yourself in this position.

Know your rights

First and foremost, it is imperative for you as a tenant to get to grips with what their tenant rights are according to the law. By law, a landlord is legally bound to maintain their property on your behalf, and according to the Rental Housing Act, you as a tenant are entitled to be provided with a property that is in a habitable condition (i.e. safe and suitable for living) with particular reference to the provision of the following:

  • A property that offers adequate living space;
  • A property that protects you from the elements and other threats to your health and safety;
  • A property that is physical safe for all occupants; as well as
  • A structurally sound building.

If your landlord does not comply with any of the above, especially where maintaining their property is concerned, they could be charged with Non-Compliance which is a criminal offence under the Rental Housing Amendment Act 35 of 2014 so be sure to take the time and get to grips with what you are legally entitled to as a tenant.

That said, it is advisable to take a look at your lease and confirm who is responsible for certain maintenance upgrades or care as this is can often be a highly contentious and confusing issue between landlords and tenants. Under normal circumstances, landlords are responsible for maintaining the main structure of the property, including the plumbing and electrical works but are not responsible for any damages caused by wear and tear i.e. changing lightbulbs or repainting a wall that has been damaged by the tenant.

Read more: Tenant vs landlord - who fixes what?

Put your concerns or issues in writing

If you have identified any maintenance issues with the property that you’ve confirmed are for the responsibility of the landlord, your second port of call should be to list and detail the issues in writing and send them through to your landlord. Advise them of the issue, when it started, what is required in order to fix it as well as the urgency required for it to be fixed. Note that the general lead-time for an issue to be attended to is within 30 days of notice unless it is stipulated as an emergency. That said, be sure to keep a copy of these concerns if you’re not sending via email as documenting this step is important should there be legal issues later on down the line.

Don’t withhold your rent

While it might be tempting, it is strongly advised that you don’t withhold your rent if you feel the landlord is not holding up their side of the deal or if they’ve taken longer than 30 days to address your issues. Unless it is otherwise specified in your lease, it is against the law for you to withhold rent in lieu of maintenance or repairs so rather opt to lodge a formal complaint as detailed in the upcoming point below. In some cases, however, if you can prove that your landlord is clearly violating their obligations for necessary and reasonable maintenance requests, you can carry out to the maintenance work yourself and then deduct the amount from your monthly rental amount. Nevertheless, be sure to consult a legal professional before going this route.

Lodge a complaint

If after duly detailing and advising the landlord of any maintenance issues nothing has been done, it is suggested that you lodge a complaint with the Rental Housing Tribunal. As a tenant, you have the right to make a formal complaint against your landlord as follows:

  • Formally claim for any damages suffered on your part which would have been avoided had the landlord maintained their property as agreed;
  • Ask the court for an order stipulating that the landlord must comply with their legal obligations;
  • Ask the court for an order that demonstrates that your right to be provided with a property in a habitable condition has been violated and that as a result, you are legally allowed to pay a lowered and fairer rental amount to compensate for the lowering in the standards of your living conditions.

Before laying a compliant however, be sure to re-check your lease for the agreed upon terms and conditions of your rental to avoid any unnecessary delays or confusion. With that said, you may decide to upon review that it is less onerous to cancel your lease if you can show failure on the part of the landlord to maintain the property as per their legal obligations.

At the end of the day, avoiding a formal maintenance dispute with your landlord is the best route to pursue so be sure to put as much energy and effort behind this option before going the legal route. Always refer back to your lease and be sure you know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant before raising any issues. More often than not, your landlord will come to the party prior to a formal complaint being lodged. That said, the law is there to protect both parties so make sure you use it to your advantage if you feel as if you’re not getting what you paid for or what you were promised by the landlord.

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