The law protects your lease

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Can a landlord change a lease agreement at will? The short answer is no: a lease is a lease is a lease. According to Carine de Beer from LEGAL2LANDLORDS, a lease agreement is a contract between parties like any other, and therefore the rules of contract law apply. “Through the process of negotiation, consensus is reached by the parties and (hopefully) reduced to writing. No one party to an agreement can unilaterally change the terms of the agreement and force the other party to sign and accept this, whether in writing or verbally.”

She notes that most well-constructed lease agreements contain a “no variations” clause stipulating that no variation to the agreement will be binding on the parties unless reduced to writing and signed by both parties. This point clearly illustrates the dangers of a verbal lease agreement; although binding, this can lead to all sorts of “he said, she said” arguments that are impossible to resolve.

She says that both the landlord and tenant need to sign any amendments in order to make the lease a valid document as this indicates acceptance of the terms and conditions from both sides.

A case in point

Essentially a property being leased needed a fair amount of work to be carried out and the landlord had agreed that the deposit and the first month’s rent would be used for this purpose. In other words, the tenant would pay for and oversee the work being carried out on the rental home.

The tenant moved in and started to organise the various projects and this is when the fun started. It appears that the landlord’s daughter didn’t agree with the amendments to the lease agreement, took it upon herself to overrule what had been stated in the lease and demanded that the rental money be paid to the landlord. There was no mention of the necessary repairs although the tenant had only agreed to lease the property if the home was upgraded to an acceptable living standard.

Help is at hand

So what can a tenant do if a landlord decides to change the agreement and inserts a clause that the tenant doesn’t find acceptable? And can a tenant be evicted if he refuses to sign the amendments? De Beer says that a tenant should report the matter to the Rental Housing Tribunal if the landlord exerts pressure to accept unilateral changes to the lease agreement by threatening him with eviction. It is illegal to evict a tenant under these circumstances.

Tenants who find themselves in this somewhat sticky situation can contact the Rental Housing Tribunal. Find your nearest provincial tribunal office.

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