Rather get it in writing

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

There’s no doubt that being a tenant can be difficult: landlords generally wield a great deal of power and while the obvious answer would be to move from the premises, this is often not feasible – particularly when a landlord threatens to withhold the deposit or demands extra money when he is notified that a tenant plans to move.

The provincial Rental Housing Tribunals do offer some support and their decisions do carry some weight. However, forewarned is forearmed and those who have all the written facts at their fingertips will probably find that a situation is easier to resolve. Here are some tips aimed at helping tenants who find themselves in unsatisfactory rental situations.

  • Put your complaints in writing. Document the issues in question and send them via registered post to your landlord. Remember to keep copies of all correspondence.

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Keep note of all important dates including when you first noted the problem, when you first phoned the landlord and when you left messages.

  • Take plenty of photographs that reflect the date, to show the extent of the problem

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Try to keep calm and deal with the landlord in a respectful manner. Shouting and screaming seldom resolves anything. Keeping a cool head and appealing to a landlord’s sense of obligation often helps resolve issues.

  • Don’t threaten to withhold rental payments. While a landlord has to maintain a property to a liveable standard by law, this doesn’t mean that you can take the law into your own hands if he fails to do so.

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Don’t fix the problem and then deduct the amount paid for the repair from the rent – unless you have the landlord’s permission (preferably in writing) to do so.

  • Under the Consumer Protection Act, a tenant can break a lease and move out after giving the landlord 20 business days’ notice. However, it’s very important to note that a landlord can claim moneys for lost rental and things like the cost of advertising for a new tenant.

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If all else fails, contact the local offices of the Rental Housing Tribunal in order to resolve the problem.

Handing over your hard-earned money to a person who is not keeping his end of the bargain can be an incredibly frustrating experience. That said, in some cases, tenants do overstep the boundaries. Phoning and complaining to a landlord about trivial issues is likely to cause problems in the relationship. For this reason, it is advised that tenants bear some of the responsibility of living in a rented property and to deal with minor issues themselves.

Tenants should also go all out to find out what sort of landlord they are going into business with and rather back away if the person concerned appears to be problematic. There are unreasonable landlords around, who, regardless go how pleasant you are, or how big the problem, will choose to turn a blind eye to the issues at hand. The consequences of dealing with a difficult landlord can prove to be costly and, even though the issues may eventually be resolved, can lead to a great deal of frustration and anger.

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