With South Africa’s banks still adopting a very cautious stance regarding bond grants, demand for rented accommodation increases month by month, says Lorraine Dellbridge, Rental Co-ordinator for Rawson Rentals. This, in turn, she says, is leading to steadily improving rentals and the return of many investors to the buy-to-let property market – but it is also leading to an increase in the volume of problems between landlords and tenants.
“In almost every case, these problems arise because either the landlord or the tenant – or both – are unfamiliar with the Rental Housing Act”, she says. This relatively uncomplicated piece of legislation, says Dellbridge, supersedes and takes precedence over any verbal or written agreement drawn up by the landlord and tenant. If any clause in the agreement contradicts or varies from the act, it will be deemed invalid if challenged.
“This is therefore a powerful piece of legislation, but it is amazing how many landlords and tenants have simply never read it. As a result they end up arguing about matters for which the act provides clear directives.”
The issues which are mostly frequently argued – and appealed to the Rental Housing Tribunal – says Dellbridge, are:
- The repayment of deposits on termination of the lease. Here, she says, there is often confusion as to the time frame in which the deposit has to be repaid and what, if any, sums may legally be deducted for damages. Often there are disagreements as to whether the tenant has in fact damaged the property or whether there are signs of normal, acceptable wear and tear.
2._ Property maintenance_. The tenants, said Dellbridge, often have difficulty in accepting that they are, by law, responsible for certain maintenance. Items that either of the parties are responsible for should be clearly laid out in the Agreement of Lease and be in line with the Rental Housing Act. Usually tenants are responsible for the interior of a property as well as the garden.
- The payment of municipal accounts. Although the installation of pre-paid meters has, to a large extent, solved this problem with regards electricity payments, said Dellbridge, some tenants still think that water, sewerage and refuse removal charges should be for the landlord’s account. Again, these items should be clearly listed in the Agreement of Lease, and it should state who is responsible for payment.
Asked what she recommends as a remedy to the current problems, Dellbridge said that the first step by all involved should be to read the Rental Housing Act. This can be found on www.info.gov.za and is, in her view, neither too long nor difficult to comprehend. However, for complete peace of mind, landlords should consider appointing an experienced, qualified rental agent who is registered with the Estate Agents Affairs Board and who understands and applies the Rental Housing Act daily.
“In eight or nine cases out of ten,” said Dellbridge, “when problems arise it is because of the lack of education and knowledge pertaining to the legislation that applies to the rental of properties. Disagreements and misunderstandings may often result in tenants incorrectly believing they may withhold rental payments and this is something that the average landlord simply cannot afford.”