Power to the people

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Many of us are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living seems to go up dramatically every month. The prices of food, petrol and clothing are increasing at an alarming rate and the news that some landlords are fraudulently inflating the amounts owed by their tenants for electricity is (pardon the pun) shocking.

A recent report that appeared in The Star newspaper highlighted just how far some low-life landlords are willing to go in order to defraud tenants of their hard-earned cash.

An investigator was called in after a retired couple had to vacate their rental property on the Waterval Estate in Gauteng when the electricity bills started to total more than their rent. The pensioners lived in a small cottage and were, according to the landlord’s calculations, racking up power bills of up to R7 000 per month.

After a full forensic audit was conducted, it was estimated that the landlord had overcharged the elderly couple by a staggering R70 000. Unfortunately, the couple has had to find an additional R40 000 for attorney’s fees in order to try and resolve the matter as the landlord disputed the allegation.

Billing issues

Unfortunately, many people living in Gauteng have had on-going billing issues with the City of Johannesburg and one can't help but wonder if some landlords aren't taking unfair advantage of the situation.

Most municipalities these days insist that utility bills are put into the property owners’ name, which is not surprising when one considers the number of tenants who are absconding and leaving enormous electricity bills unpaid. However, just because it is in someone else's name does not mean that the tenant cannot ask to see the bill. It is strongly advised that tenants ask for proof as to exactly how much is owed. This is very important given that in the report it was stated that the tenants had met with the meter readers to ensure that the readings were correct. Despite these efforts, they were still lumbered with excessively high electricity bills.

Being overcharged?

Tenants who believe they are being overcharged for utilities should attempt to get the issue resolved as soon as possible. Again, asking to see the monthly bills will go a long way towards making sure everything is above board, but it may be advisable to contact the Rental Housing Tribunal to see what can be done if exorbitant bills are a matter of course and the landlord refuses to supply evidence to support the charges levied.

It goes without saying that those who overcharge tenants for their usage of electricity are committing fraud. Besides the legal implications there are also moral obligations to consider, in this case in particular. What sort of person would target a pensioner and even when it became obvious that the tenant was struggling to keep the lights on, continue to overcharge at such an exorbitant rate?

Makes you think, doesn't it!

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