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Wednesday Oct 17, 2012

Rules of renting when government owns the property

What are the rights of a tenant living in a dwelling owned by either the national, provincial and local governments, or by social housing institutions?

Is there a difference between a private landlord, the government or social housing institutions in respect of a residential tenancy?

Social housing institutions receive subsidies from the government to provide rental housing, with tenants as beneficiaries of subsidised rentals.

Rights do not exist without responsibilities, so the question may be re-phrased as: "What rights does the government or social housing institutions have regarding a tenant?"

Section 26 of the constitution stipulates that every citizen has the right of access to adequate housing and the government must take reasonable legislative and other measures to make this right a reality - as long as it has the resources to do so.

The Rental Housing Act, 50 of 1999, refers to the government's responsibility to create mechanisms to promote the

e-mail government, as landlord, must maintain the dwelling.

In this tenant-governmentlandlord relationship, either party can lodge a complaint with the provincial Rental Housing Tribunals to terminate an unfair practice.

The government can claim arrear rentals through the tribunal, or obtain a ruling to stop overcrowding.

An aggrieved tenant can approach the tribunal to compel the government to carry out repairs, or to maintain the dwelling.

Parties can also exercise their common law rights, or follow legal guidelines laid down by the courts.

Should the government fail or refuse to carry out necessary repairs, the tenant can place the landlord on terms. A letter or notice should give a 14-day period for the landlord to do the repairs.

If the landlord refuses or fails to respond, the tenant can attend to the repairs himself/ herself and deduct the costs of such repairs from the rent, or claim a rental reduction.

Receipts and cash sale slips are important for proof of money spent.

Other options available to a tenant include cancellation of the lease or suing the landlord for breaking the lease contract.

However, such repairs or maintenance should not be merely to remedy an inconvenience, but where the use and enjoyment of the dwelling would be impossible without the repairs.

Repairs may not be an excuse to prevent or delay the landlord from exercising his rights, for example, lawful eviction, claim for arrears and nuisance.

It would be wise to consult an attorney for advice or lodge a complaint with the tribunal.

Where the tribunal issues a notice to parties for mediation, or summons to appear before it for a hearing, the body must maintain its independence.

Tribunals presently have the name of the department of housing/human settlements on the letterheads and other documents.

Tenants become "suspicious" of receiving a fair and just resolution to their disputes if the party against whom they complain is inseparably linked to the commissioners or members involved in adjudication or mediation.

Dr Sayed Iqbal Mohamed is the chairperson, Organisation of Civic Rights.

For tenant's advice, contact Pretty Gumede or Loshni Naidoo on 031 304 6451.

Tenant Issues
Dr Sayed Iqbal Mohamed
Chairperson, Organisation of Civic Rights
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