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Wednesday Nov 13, 2013

Tenant's complaints about property state remain unheeded

Mapaseka Machili, a senior specialist educationist for the Sisonke region in KwaZulu-Natal, is despondent as her complaint lodged with the Rental Housing Tribunal 11 months ago remains unresolved.

Machili concluded a lease with her landlord, Derrick Naidoo, through National Letting on November 30 last year for a dwelling in Bluff Road, Durban.

The dwelling was in need of urgent repairs and a joint inspection with the agent's representative confirmed Machili's view that the place was in a 'pathetic state'.

She had no choice but to take occupation the following day, since she had to move out of the previous accommodation where her lease had ended.

Machili handed an inspection report to National Letting whose representative took photographs of the items that needed urgent repairs.

Machili discovered that there was an outstanding municipal account for water and electricity that needed to be settled, which National Letting undertook to sort out.

She sent a letter to the agent on December 6, itemising what needed urgent attention.

These included the small swimming pool that was filthy, removal of refuse, painting of the inside and outside of the dwelling and the outbuilding.

The doors, windows, roof, broken water pipes, taps, shower and bathtub had to be repaired.

There was no clothes line, and fumigation to rid the property of a flea infestation was another pressing matter.

Who failed Machili? Is it not part of an agent's responsibility and duty of care to ensure that the dwelling to be let is habitable and fit for the purpose it is to be let?
James Joseph of National Letting said another letting agent had contacted them to find accommodation for Machili.

Naidoo's property was identified on short notice.

Naidoo promised to send a maintenance team when National Letting contacted him. When they contacted Naidoo again, Joseph said, he was unco-operative.

They suggested another dwelling to Machili, but she was not prepared to move out due to inconvenience and some of the repair work she had already done.

Naidoo claimed that his property was let without his knowledge and Machili was not his tenant.

He claimed to have reported National Letting to the Estate Agency Board.

He decided against instituting legal action because much of his time was taken up in the family business.

Asked if he received rentals for the past 11 months, Naidoo said he kept the rentals in a 'suspense account'.

He later provided proof of communication with National Letting in January when he claims he realised his property was being let.

The e-mails show he requested a meeting with Joseph and Machili, but there was no mention of his intended legal action or that Machili was not his tenant or that the property was let without his consent.

The tribunal was the only hope for Machili. While she waited almost 11 months for her matter to be dealt with, the main concern was her lease coming to an end in a few weeks. She is not sure if she will ever receive compensation for the fumigation she had done and a rental reduction for not having full use and enjoyment of the dwelling.

Last week, she received a call from the tribunal informing her an inspector would like to note the maintenance problems she had complained about in January. He failed turn up. She also received a summons that her matter was scheduled for a hearing before three members.

Willow Ziqubu, senior manager of the tribunal, confirmed the hearing would be held on Tuesday last week.

But Machili received a call from the tribunal that the hearing would not proceed because Naidoo was not available due to a high court matter.

Why the delay and several mediation dates when a complaint must be resolved within three months?
Ziqubu explained that the first time Machili cited Joseph as the landlord and not Naidoo.

Joseph provided the landlord's telephone details and the matter was scheduled for February 14, rescheduled for March 18, May 30 and, lastly, for August 16.

The tribunal went out of its way to establish the address to serve the notice on Naidoo.

When they finally served the notice, he failed to attend the mediation.

It is evident that the tribunal did more than required of it in terms of legislation. However, a simple preliminary investigation, which is required by law, would have cleared the confusion.

The business telephone number Joseph provided was sufficient to obtain an address.

The lease does not contain any information about the landlord, not even in the section for service of legal processes. This was a serious oversight on National Letting's part.

A few weeks ago, in a separate matter, the tribunal's 'sheriff ', in attempting to serve a notice on me, asked if I owned a property and knew about the dispute regarding a refund of deposit.

I explained that I never owned a property and was never involved as a landlord. It appeared that the tribunal also captured information wherein I was a tenant to the same deposit dispute as well as a representative.

Machili has decided to move out at the end of this month, but she hopes the tribunal will eventually hear her matter.

This does not mean that the tribunal must decide in her favour since it would have to evaluate Naidoo's and her evidence and then decide who is more convincing.

Perhaps the tribunal will finally get it right.

Dr Sayed Iqbal Mohamed
Organisation of Civic Rights
Tenant Issues
Daily News
For tenants' rights advice, phone Loshni Naidoo or Pretty Gumede at 031 304 6451.


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