When landlords and tenants disagree

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

As long as there are landlords and tenants there are going to be rental disputes. Tenants may believe that the landlord isn’t doing his bit to maintain the property, while the landlord feels that he constantly has to attend to minor problems that the tenant himself should fix. The tenant may not believe that paying the rent a few days late is the end of the world, while the landlord believes that the rent should be paid before anything else. The list goes on and on and, while some arguments are fairly easy to resolve, others aren’t and could even end up in a court of law.

The laws that govern rental properties have changed in recent years and, while some may disagree, many now believe that tenants enjoy more rights than the actual owner. A landlord can no longer, for example, simply evict a defaulting tenant. There are strict legal guidelines that apply and certain steps have to be followed in order to remove an erring tenant.

Rent must be paid

Another issue of contention is deposits. Tenants sometimes take the view that the deposit can be utilised as the last month’s rent. This is not the case and tenant must pay the required amount on a monthly basis, unless otherwise agreed with the landlord, until they move out. On the other hand there are landlords who come up with every excuse as to why they should retain the deposit. These people often maintain that the full deposit is required in order to rectify damage that the tenant has caused to the property concerned. While it is true that a landlord may use deposit monies for this purpose, it does not give him carte blanche to withhold the entire amount, and receipts must be supplied which clearly indicate the amount that is spent to rectify the faults.

Inspections

The situation often descends into chaos when a proper inspection is not carried out before the tenant moves in. The importance of conducting a thorough inspection by the owner (or his agent) and the tenant before occupation cannot be over-emphasised. All faults both big and small must be noted and this list must be referred to again once the tenant decides to move out.

Likewise it is highly recommended that a tenant insist that the landlord (or his agent) conduct the outgoing inspection in his presence as soon as possible once the premises have been vacated. Landlords need to note that there is such a thing as fair wear and tear and take this factor into consideration, before attempting to withhold lease monies. A tenant who has lived in a property for five years for example cannot be expected to pay for all the interior walls to be re-painted. Similarly, it would be unreasonable to expect the tenant to pay for new carpets because they are stained when he has lived in the property for a number of years.

Refund of deposits

When a joint inspection has taken place, the Rental Housing Act clearly states that a tenant’s deposit must be refunded within seven days if there are no repairs that need to be carried out and 14 days if repair work needs to be undertaken. Because the landlord has to have placed the deposit in an interest-bearing account, he must pay all outstanding monies across including the interest that has accrued during the rental period.

If a tenant is not available or is unwilling to inspect the property at the end of the lease, the landlord must inspect the home within seven days of the tenant moving out. The landlord then has 21 days to attend to any repairs and refund the deposit or the balance if there is any repair work.

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