Landlords can in future be liable to a fine or imprisonment of up to two years, or both, if they fail to provide their tenants with a written lease agreement or fail to repay a tenant’s deposit with interest or rent out properties that are not deemed ‘habitable’. It is expected that South Africa will soon see important changes to its rental housing legislation.
The Rental Housing Amendment Act 35 of 2014 (“the Amendment Act”) has been looming for some time. While no firm date has been set for it to come into operation, landlords and tenants will be required to comply with the new requirements contained in it within six months from the date of its commencement.
Landlords are therefore advised to note the important changes in advance and to make arrangements as necessary before the Amendment Act comes into operation.
Criminal liability for landlords
Landlords can in future be liable to a fine or imprisonment of up to two years, or both if they fail to provide their tenants with a written lease agreement.
Landlords face the same fate if they fail to repay a tenant’s deposit with interest, or if they fail to provide a dwelling that is deemed to be in a ‘habitable’ state. Landlords who cut the electricity, water or utilities to a tenant’s property, lock a tenant out of the property or who fail to maintain the leased property in a decent state, also face jail time.
Written lease agreements
All lease agreements will be required to be in writing. The onus for doing so will rest on the landlord. Oral lease agreements which have not been reduced to writing will not be binding on tenants.
Deposit / Written receipts
Landlords must invest tenants’ rental deposits in an interest-bearing account at a financial institution, at a minimum prescribed rate of interest.
Tenants may insist on written receipts reflecting all payments made and may request landlords to provide written proof of interest earned on the deposit.
Rental deposits, together with the interest earned, must be paid out to tenants within 7 days of the expiration of the lease, subject to deductions for damages.
Maintenance of the premises
Landlords who rent out properties which are not deemed to be in a ‘habitable’ state, could face jail time of up to 2 years. Landlords must maintain building structures and ensure that rental properties have access to basic services like water and electricity.
A ‘habitable’ condition refers to a dwelling being safe and suitable for living, with specific reference to adequate space, protection from the elements and other threats to health, the physical safety of tenants and their visitors.
Inspections and defects
The responsibility to arrange a joint inspection of the property with the tenant will fall on the landlord.
A list of defects to the property must be attached as an annexure to the lease agreement.
If a joint inspection is not done at the commencement of the lease, then the landlord will not be allowed to withhold a portion of the tenant’s deposit for repairs or damage.
Landlords and tenants are advised to a legal professional for advice and guidance in complying with the proposed changes.
This article was written by Marco Vieira and originally published on the website of Eviction Lawyers South Africa