Turning to social media for property advice is a BAD idea

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Taking legal advice on property matters from someone on social media could end up costing you a heap of money if you act on the wrong advice.

Social media is no substitute for a law degree and taking legal advice on property matters from a keyboard warrior could end up costing you a heap of money if you act on the wrong advice. Don't get us wrong, the advice may be good or it may be bad. The problem is unless you're a lawyer, you won't know the difference. In other words, it's a bit like a lucky packet - you simply don't know what you should and what you shouldn't believe.

It's dangerous to assume that the person dispensing these pearls of wisdom is a legal practitioner; lawyers are a lot more mercenary than that and generally don't dish out free legal advice, especially on social media platforms. They are also unlikely to comment on something without being in possession of all the facts. And therein lies the problem.

As the adage goes, there are two sides to a story, and then there's the truth. As such, while the tenant may not intentionally distort the truth of the matter, their lack of legal understanding can make something appear to be something be totally different. For example, posting that your landlord is increasing your rent by 10 percent and asking if it's legal because he didn't inform you in a timely manner, or questioning if he may do this because he informed you of the hike via an SMS can be become problematic because it's unlikely that anyone answering will have seen the most important document of all - the lease. Generally speaking a lease will contain a clause that discusses annual increases. If it is a specific amount or percentage or at a rate that can be calculated, that is what applies irrespective of how it is communicated. What is important to remember is that a tenant does not have to sign something that he is not happy with. He can choose to not move in at all and find somewhere else to live, with a landlord who is slightly more reasonable as far as increases are concerned.

Other issues that commonly draw advice on the various social media platforms include:

  • Stop paying rent if your landlord doesn't maintain the property to an acceptable standard. Even if the roof over your head leaks, you are still deriving some enjoyment from living on the premises. Refusing to pay is going to land you in hot water and could end up costing a fortune in legal fees. If you are unhappy with your living conditions discuss it in writing with your landlord. If the landlord refuses to rectify the problems, consider giving notice and finding a more suitable home.

  • Use your deposit to pay the last month’s rent. Strictly speaking the deposit does not belong to you until it has been determined that the property has not been damaged during your stay. The landlord is entitled to the last month’s rent and will only refund the deposit once an inspection has taken place.

  • Don't move out until you receive a court order officially evicting you or refusing to move out because there are children or elderly people on the property. Legally speaking each case is determined on its merit and yes, while there may well be instances where the courts have found that the landlord may not evict or can only do so if they supply alternative accommodation, this certainly isn't the case in every instance and the tenant may be held liable for legal costs as well as being evicted from the home.

  • You can vacate the property without notice before the lease ends. While it's true a tenant may now cancel a lease before it has lapsed, this doesn't mean that you no longer have to give notice. It also pays to remember that even if you have given notice, a landlord can legally claim money from you if he has had to advertise the property or if he struggles to find a new tenant.

  • You can remove anything you've installed on the property. This is complicated, but generally speaking anything that has been installed in the home becomes a fixture and therefore stays put when you move out. Things like ceiling fans and satellite dishes for example are classified as fixtures and may well have to stay behind when you move, regardless of who paid to install them.

We've only touched on a few issues and as with anything legal, most matters are far more complicated than they may seem at first glance. The best advice we can give is not to go on social media platforms looking for answers. Either discuss the matter directly with your landlord or letting agent or, if the problem is serious enough, consult with an attorney. Yes, you will have to pay for the advice, but it's probably going to work out much cheaper than taking advice from unqualified people and then fighting the matter in court.

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