Rental Housing Bill: equal for all?

Private Property South Africa

Towards the end of February, Human Settlements Minister Connie September introduced the Rental Housing Amendment Bill for debate in the National Assembly.

In her address, September explained that the Bill seeks to develop “lasting solutions” for the millions of South Africans who are in the rental market. She added that government was conscious of the hardships faced by ordinary citizens who were threatened with arbitrary evictions, ludicrous rental increases, squalid conditions and the like: “We seek to achieve a fair and equitable rental housing landscape to create sufficient housing opportunities to ensure that our people can live in dignity and not be discriminated against unfairly or be subjected to unscrupulous transactions.”

The Bill proposes several sweeping changes. These include, among others:

  • All lease agreements between tenants and landlords must be reduced to writing

  • Each province is to have a Rental Housing Tribunal. Provisions on how these tribunals are to be constituted and run were provided in the Bill

  • The clear demarcation of the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords

  • Ensuring rental agreement uniformity and the establishment of norms and standards

  • Each municipality is to have a Rental Housing Information office

  • The Bill also attempts to define “arbitrary eviction” to align such acts with the Constitution

More clarity needed

According to a [report by Patrick McLaughlin on ParlyReport.co.za, there has been a call for “more clarity in the wording of the Bill.”

According to the report, Pam Golding in particular called for “considerably” more clarity on expressions contained in many of the clauses, particularly surrounding the clause which states: “The landlord must provide a tenant with a dwelling that is fit and suitable to live in, as well as maintain the existing structure of the dwelling and where possible facilitate the provision of utilities to the dwelling.”

McLaughlin argues that while the intentions might be obvious to the drafters of the Bill, in reality and “on the ground” the practicality and meaning of such wording would cause problems at tribunal or housing office level and need to be clarified.

Positive but not perfect

Although not perfect, it could be argued that the intentions behind the Bill are positive. Indeed, there is much room for improvement in the rental housing sector where tenants - usually those in a fairly vulnerable position – are taken advantage of. It is not uncommon to hear of cases where tenants are subjected to exorbitant rate increases or are evicted due to trivial personal disagreements or similar.

Putting matters into perspective, a tin, mud floor shack sans electricity measuring between 8 and 12 metres in Zandspruit currently costs between R350 and R700pm to rent. Although public toilets and water are available via a public tap, there are no ablution facilities.

I cannot help but wonder if such a dwelling will be deemed “fit and suitable” to live in as per the Bill? Moreover, how will a landlord be held responsible for providing utilities in such a scenario? Unfortunately, such dwellings are very much the status quo for millions living in South Africa. It will be interesting to see if the Bill will really have any teeth and make a meaningful difference in the future.

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