Power to the tenant

Power to the tenant

Private Property South Africa
Alan Levy

Landlords who take the law into their own hands by terminating the electrical supply to a tenant’s property could well come to regret the decision. Landlords who believe that they can rewrite the law books and treat their tenants as they like, when they like, may find themselves in extremely hot water. Those who want to evict tenants have to follow set procedures via the courts and may not force their tenants out by trying to make their lives as miserable as possible.

In the past one of the most common methods that landlords used to bring defaulting tenants into line was to shut off the electricity supply to the property. It proved to be a pretty powerful weapon as most tenants were forced to either pay up or ship out. While it may be an effective way of ensuring outstanding payments are made, the only people who are allowed to terminate an electrical supply to a property is the Council itself and not the owner of the property. The law is very clear on this point and is highlighted in the following legislation:

  1. Section 14 (1) of the Electricity By Laws of the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality provide that when any consumption charges due to the Council for electricity supplied are in arrears, the Council may at any time without notice disconnect the supply to the electrical installation.

  2. Section 16 of the Rental Housing Act, 1999 provides that any person who unlawfully shuts off the utilities to a rental housing property shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

  3. Section 9 of the Procedural Regulations to the Rental Housing Act provides that a tenant may lodge a complaint to the Rental Housing Tribunal on an urgent basis for spoliation or interdict (if the tenant’s electricity was cut off by the landlord).

  4. Regulation 12 of the Unfair Practice Regulations to the Rental Housing Act provides that a landlord who is obliged by law or in terms of the lease agreement to provide electricity to a tenant must provide that service and must not cause the non-supply or interrupted supply of the service to the dwelling without a court order.

  5. Regulation 14 of the Unfair Practice Regulations to the Rental Housing Act continues and provides that should a landlord fail to comply with the above regulation and be found guilty a fine or imprisonment may be imposed.

  6. Section 27 (3) of the Electricity Act, 1987 (now repealed) provided that any person who cut off or damaged or interfered with any apparatus for generating, transmitting or supplying electricity, would be guilty of an offence.

  7. The Electricity Regulation Act, 2006. This Act replaced the Electricity Act of 1987 and does not contain any provisions relating to the termination of electricity.

  8. The Common Law provides for a spoliation application to be brought by a tenant where a landlord unlawfully terminates the tenant’s electrical supply. Spoliation means that a party’s peaceful possession of an item has been unduly disrupted. Plainly put it is available where a party disturbs someone’s peaceful possession and acts by taking “the law into his own hands”.

It needs to be remembered that disconnecting a tenants electricity is regarded as an act of spoliation (an unlawful disturbance of the tenant’s peaceful possession of the electricity) and on an application to a court by the tenant, the court will order the supply to be restored. It is also an offence in terms of the Rental Housing Act and the action may not be undertaken without a court order.

Written with the assistance of Alan Levy

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