This week the Property Poser panel addresses a problem from a reader who is renting a cottage on another person’s property.
She explains that she pays her rental in advance and her utilities in arrears and settles them jointly around the 27th, even though her lease stipulates that they are only due at the end of the month.
Recently, her landlady obtained an up-to-date municipal account and insisted that the amount was payable by the 7th even though, in the normal course of events, the reader would have paid it at month-end.
The landlady even went as far as disconnecting the electricity as a result of non-payment. The reader would therefore like to know what her rights are.
In the absence of further information, one must assume that the rental agreement stipulates that the utilities are payable with the rental on or before the end of the month, says Charlotte Vermaak from Chas Everitt in Port Elizabeth.
“The landlady is therefore acting in breach of the agreement between the parties.”
Furthermore, says Vermaak, the provisions of the Rental Housing Act state that it is an unfair practice for a landlord to unlawfully shut off the utilities to a rented property.
“The regulations provide that a tenant may lodge an urgent complaint with the Rental Housing Tribunal for spoliation or an interdict.”
Vermaak says the landlord may not interrupt the supply of services to the tenant’s dwelling without a court order and a landlord who fails to comply may be liable for the payment of a fine or even imprisonment.
The courts do not want people to take the law into their own hands, says Rian du Toit from DTS Attorneys in Port Elizabeth.
“When a person owns or is using something like municipal services that is then taken away from them, he or she can apply for a spoliation order for its restoration.”
Du Toit says the investigation does not take into account whether the previous user or owner had lawful rights to the item or services, simply whether the current user (tenant) was in peaceful possession thereof and that it was taken away.
“The merits of the matter will be investigated at a later stage should the parties take it further.”
The appropriate remedy for the reader is therefore to approach the tribunal for urgent relief, says Du Toit.
“If our reader requires quicker assistance, she might seek the assistance of an attorney who could warn the landlady of the consequences of her actions should she continue to take the law into her own hands.”
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