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As we noted in our last post (i.e. Everything you need to know about Student Accommodation), settling in at university requires you to make a crucial decision about where you are going to stay. Staying in outside accommodation rather than at a university residence can be intimidating because of the bills and utilities that you have to be responsible for, unlike your peers who live in residence and have this all attended to by the university.
To make sure that renting and the task of dealing with landlords is easier for you, we have come up with a guide to the Rental Housing Act to help you understand your rights under a lease agreement as the tenant. The Act regulates the relationship between landlords and tenants. As a tenant, it is important to understand your rights and obligations as well as those of the landlord. Knowing the law regarding renting is important so that you can assert your needs and you do not get short-changed.
Section 26 of the Constitution provides that everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing. This provision is the gateway to the Rental Housing Act. Under section 26(2), the Constitution mandates the government to take reasonable measures to come up with laws to achieve the realization of the right to housing – herein enters the Act.
Section 8 of the Act provides that a lease, in writing, containing all relevant information about the rental period must be issued to the tenant. The lease agreement can be published in any of the official South African languages. In some instances, tenants move into accommodation without a lease agreement that lays out what the tenant and landlord expect to form each other. This is dangerous because should anything happen during your stay, and you want to hold your landlord accountable for any violation – the law will not be on your side.
Section 4A of the Act states that as the tenant, you have the right to view the premises with the landlord before you move in. The idea is for you to be aware of any existing defects or damage to the property and to come to an agreement with the landlord about their responsibility to rectify these. At the end of the lease period, you and the landlord must arrange another joint inspection to determine what damage was caused to the property since you occupied it.
Provisions that are important for the tenant:
- Receipts: Tenants have the right to receive a written receipt from the landlord for all the payments they make.
- Deposit: When the lease expires, a tenant has the right to receive the deposit that they paid and any interest that accrued to it, within seven days of the lease expiring. This is subject to whether the tenant had amounts owing or damaged the property and consequently had to pay for the repairs with the deposit.
- Written proof: A tenant may request the landlord to provide them with written proof of interest accrued on the deposit that they paid.
- Eviction: A tenant may not be evicted under any circumstances unless the landlord has acquired an eviction order under the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act.
- Privacy: Tenants have the right to privacy. This means that the landlord may not:
- Search the tenant’s personal property
- Infringe the privacy of the tenant’s communications e.g., cell phones, Wi-Fi
- Discriminate against a tenant or prospective tenant based on their race, gender, sex, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, or any other ground that would constitute unfair discrimination.
Cancellation of the Lease Agreement
A lease agreement can be canceled if you or the landlord have broken an important part of the agreement. For example, if the landlord fails to complete essential maintenance or you fail to pay your rent – the lease agreement may be terminated.
The lease agreement should contain a cancellation clause that informs you of the time period that you and the landlord have to fix any violation that has happened (such as the examples stated above). The lease agreement should also contain a clause about when the agreement will come to an end if the violation is not fixed within the given period.
Furthermore, a lease can also be terminated when you or the landlord give reasonable notice about wanting to cancel the lease. If there is no agreement about what a “reasonable notice” means, the general rule is that it is at least one month prior.
The landlord’s rights:
- Rent: The landlord can expect prompt and regular payment from the tenant
- Cancellation: The landlord may cancel the lease but only on reasonable grounds that do not constitute an unfair practice
- Damages: The landlord has a right to claim compensation for damages to the property if the damage is caused by the tenant or their visitor.