Tenants and Landlords Must Know their Rights and Responsibilities
The rights of tenants and landlords are set out in the 1999 Rental Housing Act, but anecdotal evidence suggests that these rights are not as well known and understood as they could be. Furthermore, it appears that too few people are aware of the existence of the Rental Housing Tribunal - an independent statutory body vested with the powers of a magistrate's court to settle disputes between landlords and tenants.
In order to remedy this, I am pleased today to announce the launch of the Department of Local Government and Housing's 'Know your Rights' campaign which aims to inform tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to rental housing.
- The tenant's right not to be discriminated against as a result of his or her race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture or language
- The tenant's right to privacy
- The tenant's right to receive back the balance of his or her deposit (with interest) after a fair deduction by the landlord for damages to property
- The landlord's right to prompt and regular payment and to recover unpaid rental
- The landlord's right to terminate a lease insofar as the grounds to do so do not constitute an unfair practice
- The landlord's right to claim fair compensation for damages to property
It must be said that many tenants - particularly those in backyard accommodation - are not fully conversant with these rights. In many cases, there is no formal agreement or contract between a landlord and tenant. Where there is a formal contract, it does not always follow the principles set out in the Rental Housing Act. It is therefore crucial that all tenants and landlords are made aware that they have rights enshrined in law over and above their contractual agreements, if any.
In addition to informing tenants and landlords of their rights, this campaign aims to create awareness of the functions of the Rental Housing Tribunal and the service it provides. The Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal was established in 2001 with a mandate to harmonise relationships between landlords and tenants, resolve disputes that arise due to unfair practices and inform landlords and tenants of their rights in terms of the Rental Housing Act.
Despite the Rental Housing Tribunal's eight year existence, the fact is that not many people - particularly outside Cape Town - are aware of the Tribunal's existence. In July this year, for example, only nine of the 236 cases lodged with the Tribunal were from complainants outside the Cape Town metro region. This campaign hopes to remedy this lack of awareness.
The campaign is also borne out of a realisation that the economic recession has increased the likelihood of tenants defaulting on rent and landlords withholding deposits or failing to maintain properties. Indeed, evidence shows that more and more tenants and landlords are entering into disputes than before. This year, the number of disputes reported to the Rental Housing Tribunal is one and half times higher than last year. In the five month period from April to August this year, 961 cases were lodged with the Tribunal compared with 667 in the same period last year and 1237 for the entire 2008/2009 financial year.
The Rental Housing Tribunal is fully capacitated to hear and resolve cases. In the last 8 years, despite a ten-fold uptick in cases reported (102 in 2001 compared with 961 in 2008), the performance of the Tribunal has improved significantly. In 2001, it took 16 months on average to finalise a case. At present, it takes 3 months. This improvement is due partly to a steady streamlining of the processes at the Tribunal, including the electronic case management system implemented in December 2008. It is due also to the dedication of staff members (including those at the call centre and helpdesk) and members of the Tribunal itself.
The Rental Housing Tribunal 'Know your Rights' campaign aims to reach all tenants and landlords in the Western Cape through targeted advertising, PR, pamphlet drops, postering and road shows throughout the province.
Rental housing - whether it is provided by the state or individuals - remains a key strategy to provide the people of the Western Cape with decent accommodation. For it to function effectively, landlords and tenants must be aware of their rights, responsibilities and contractual obligations. I hope that this campaign will go some way towards achieving this.
Note to editors:
- Landlords and tenants with grievances are encouraged to contact the Rental Housing Tribunal's call centre on 0860 106 166
- A help desk is located at 27 Wale Street on the Ground Floor
- Provision for provincial Rental Housing Tribunals was made in the 1999 Rental Housing Act (no. 50 of 1999)
- The Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal was established in 2001
- In terms of section 13 (13) of the Rental Housing Act, a ruling by the Tribunal is deemed to be an order of a magistrate's court in terms of the Magistrates' Court Act (no. 32 of 1944)
The Tribunal members are:
Mr Salim Patel (Chairperson)
Ms Maletsatsi Wotini (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms Tosca van der Hoven
Mr I Higgins
Mr R Vincent
Ms Vivien Marks (alternate)
Ms Sindiswa Ndlwana (alternate)
Media statement by:
MEC Bongikosi Madikizela
Western Cape Housing Minister