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Wednesday Oct 24, 2012

Muizenberg case shows danger of not checking tenants

The problems that can face an estate agency handling a difficult tenant in a rented property were revealed yet again by a recent case in Muizenberg.

Rawson Properties Muizenberg franchise were asked to take over the management of an apartment after the owner/landlord had died. The request came from the deceased estate executor.

It transpired that the previous owner had, with the help of an outside agent, rented the flat to an unemployed person.

"This," says Errol King, Rawson Properties Muizenberg franchisee, "is a violation of the Estate Agency Affairs Board's code which makes it clear that agents have to act in the best interests of their client. By accepting an unemployed person as the tenant, the initial agent was placing the client at risk."

Within a short space of time, the tenant had stopped paying his rent and it appears that the initial agent then failed to start eviction proceedings. As a result, the landlord suffered financially.

The situation was exacerbated by the tenant's practice of showering in such a way that the shower water overflowed and penetrated two rooms of the flat below. Repairs had to wait several weeks while the flat below was given a chance to dry out and because Rawson Properties Muizenberg got no response to emails and phone calls made to the tenant.

On checking the lease (an official EAAB document), Rawson Properties Muizenberg found that it gave them the right to enter the property if they suspected that the tenant had damaged or neglected it. They accordingly approached the deceased owner's estate executor and informed him that the estate would have to pay for the repairs to the damaged flat below. With his permission, they then called in a plumber to put an end to the leaking and a locksmith to replace the locks.

"From the passage outside the flat, we saw no sign that any person was living in the unit," said King.

A few days later, however, they got a call from the tenant, saying that they had locked him out of his flat and he was going to sue them for this.

"The tenant then laid a charge of breaking and entering against Rawson Properties," said King. "He alleged, among other things, that we had also stolen his valuable gold jewellery."

"This allegation was followed by a call from the police to report to the station at once. There, we were told we would have to pay the full amount of the missing jewellery or we would be arrested."

At this point, Rawson Properties Muizenberg handed the matter to their attorneys and it was agreed that they would discuss the matter with the tenant's attorney. Nevertheless, a few days later the police returned to Rawson Muizenberg, apparently intent on arresting King and one of his colleagues - who were fortunately not there. King then contacted the police and asked them to come and get copies of the unanswered emails, the lease and the plumber's report, which indicated just how much damage had been done and how much repair was needed.

"All of this," said King, "showed that we had exceptionally good reasons for entering the flat."

After this the police dropped the case. Subsequently, it was found that the tenant was under curatorship and accordingly had no right to lay a case in law.

King said that the incident was particularly worrying, not only because it showed that the police are inclined to act in a very high handed manner but also because it showed that there are still landlords and agents who are prepared to take on tenants without checking their credit and other records.

"It is this slackness," said King, "that has led to so many very serious incidents of tenants defaulting on their payments. Any good rental agent will tell you that credit checking is an absolutely fundamental key process to running a successful rental portfolio."

Rawson Properties Press Release

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