Overcrowded pools – and other lease disagreements

Private Property South Africa
The Roosting Venus

There’s many a time when I’ve wanted to get out of something. A recent instance is the body corporate committee that someone volunteered me to join. The unit was intended to be merely an investment, but as an owner, although we don’t live there, it was deemed necessary for me to be involved in the runnings. It was deemed mostly necessary of course by The Other Half who realised that while I was at body corporate meetings, he could water his garden undisturbed.

But back to the body corporate, and the transgressions of a bunch of neighbours. If it wasn’t someone’s cat spraying on someone else’s cushions, it was swimming pool manners or lack thereof. To be fair, I can’t say that 30 visitors in a plunge pool over Easter weekend would do it for me either.

Unsurprisingly lease termination was a regular issue, and after sufficient exasperation I knew we had to get to the nitty-gritty. When is it possible for a tenant or a landlord to break a lease? Is lease termination by the landlord the same as eviction? And can lease termination by the either be penalised.

Luckily as a lady largely of leisure, I had time on my hands and soon found answers aplenty.

A lease termination is a general term for the end of a lease either on contractual terms (the term runs out or both parties agree to terminate it) or on adversarial terms (one party does something that is prohibited by the rules of the lease). An eviction however, is the legal and forcible removal of the tenant from the property, and is governed by a specific legal process. So while a lease termination can result in eviction, it can be completely equable.

Under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) a tenant has the right to terminate a lease at any time, regardless of the length of the lease agreement. A tenant also has the right to do this without any legitimate reason. However, under this act, the tenant does have to give the landlord 20 working days’ notice and the landlord is allowed to charge a “reasonable” cancellation penalty.

The boundaries of “reasonable” have yet to be fully probed, but landlords will need to show evidence of losses suffered. These can include loss of income, costs of re-advertising the property, as well as other losses incurred through the tenant terminating the lease. The landlord will however also need to show he has gone to reasonable lengths to minimise his costs and losses.

A landlord can legally terminate a lease if a tenant significantly violates its terms or the law. Non- or late-payment of rent, owning a pet in violation of a no-pets clause, substantially damaging the property, or participating in illegal activities on or near the premises would all do the trick. However this is governed by a legal procedure stipulated in the Rental Housing and Prevention of Illegal Eviction (PIE) acts, and the tenant is also entitled to 20 business days’ notice to rectify the violation. Thereafter, the process of eviction may be followed, as stipulated in the PIE Act.

While the cancellation of lease by either party may be grounds to sue for damages, these damages need to be proved. Before taking on the other party head to head it’s also important to realise that even when the other party has little chance of winning, it all takes time, energy and money, so peaceful negotiations are often a better route.

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