Of Landlords, Tenants and Mediators

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

When in doubt over an alternative to legal discourse when embroiled in a rental battle, consult the Rental Housing Tribunal. It serves a mediating function to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants, and when necessary final arbitration takes place in the Tribunal Court.

Property professionals in attendance at Friday’s Women in Property seminar by the Cape Town Institute of Estate Agents SA (IEASA), were addressed by Vivien Marks of the Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal’s Assessment and Training Centre. Marks highlighted the value of skills and knowledge in the rental industry, attained through specialised training that also provides reciprocal flow between sales and rentals. She said the tribunal, not to be underestimated in its powers, is an entity “not without teeth”, that is dealing with a range of cases from township dwellings to exclusive suburban mansions.

Reference was made to an increasing number of agents, not qualified nor equipped to enter the Tribunal Court, who are handling cases where updated knowledge of new legislation has become essential. This includes both the New Consumer Protection Act and Company’s Act of 2011, the Rental Housing Act and the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act, plus any recent amendments to these acts.

The Rental Housing Tribunal (RHT) replaced the old ‘Rent Board’ which previously only represented tenants, now acting on behalf of tenants as well as landlords. When disputes arise, landlords or tenants may file complaints to the closest RHT office where cases are registered. This is followed by written correspondence to relevant parties, providing dates, times and places for mediation, allowing respondents to file a counter-claim against the complainant.

Should mediation between the parties occur, the mediator does not have the power to make a ruling, but advises the parties of legal implications relating to the dispute, and assists in finding a solution. At the conclusion of a successful mediation, parties may request that the agreement be made a ruling of the tribunal, and when unsuccessful cases are referred to the tribunal for hearings.

During hearings, parties or authorised representatives may present a case, put forward any relevant evidence, and cross examine each other, while tribunal members may question other parties. An inspection report regarding the state of the dwelling may also be discussed dependent on the type of dispute. An adjournment of the tribunal provides for the examination of evidence rulings, usually issued on the same day.

Attention was drawn to the ignorance on the part of private landlords, tenants and some property industry members regarding the most common problem in recent cases, relating to rental deposits where interest bearing re-payments are no longer the rule. Marks commented that landlords are increasingly seen to be using deposits as ‘soft cushions’ for deductions prior to re-payments, in particular that relating to “fair wear and tare” as stipulated in rental contracts. Other important issues to note are the violation of lease agreements by both agents, landlords and tenants where the clear communication of the rules of conduct of a property between parties can eliminate a number of issues.

The Western Cape Rental Tribunal, in co-operation with the Institute of Estate Agents will continue to run training courses in 2012, to fully equip the industry with the necessary skills for greater professionalism.

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