Tag Archive: Cape Town Eviction Attorneys

Relief for destitute people evicted from Klein Akker farm

Humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers and Rural Development and Land Reform Deputy Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha brought some relief to nearly 100 destitute people after they were evicted from the farm Klein Akker near Wallacedene in Kraaifontein.

They have been living in a temporary place for more than two months, with no food or water because the pumps on the land had been stolen.

Some of them lived in tents which were affected by the recent heavy rains. The families of Klein Akker farm resided on the farm for two decades. They are now housed at the state-owned Mesco farm.

Resident Max Geza said: “I am very happy now because I will at least have water to drink and food to eat. We had to go and fetch water very far from here, and some of the residents are old and ill.”

Skwatsha said: “I am here today because I have to provide basic needs to these destitute people who do not have houses. They were moved to this place after they were evicted from their original place. Working with Gift of the Givers, we provided them with basic needs such as blankets, food and sanitation. I would not be able to provide the time frame to provide them with housing, but I would love to get them decent houses, but for now they are safer than before and we will slowly improve their lives.”

Gift of the Givers director Badr Kazi said: “We provided them with food, blankets and hygienic stuff, and if these people are going to be here for a little longer, then we will continue to support them for a while, and we hope the government fast tracks the housing issue for these people.”

Originally featured on iol.co.za

*Simon Dippenaar & Associates, Inc. is a law firm in Cape Town, now operating in Gauteng and Durban, of specialised eviction attorneys, helping both landlords and tenants with the eviction process. Contact one of our eviction lawyers on +27 (0) 86 099 5146 or info@sdlaw.co.za if you have been evicted unlawfully.

Further reading:

Klein Akker Evictions

Just and Equitable Evictions in South Africa?

Farm Dweller Evictions – a Fair Process

Evicted Families Stuck in Paarl Caravan Park for a Year

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Unpaid municipal bills – what’s a landlord to do?

The sting in the tail when a tenant moves out is often a legacy of unpaid bills

Your tenants have moved out, either willingly or through the eviction process. Then you get hit with a large unpaid rates bill by the local municipality. What do you do?

Utility bills can be a sore point for landrlds and tenants. They don't have to be.

If it comes to this, the answer is very little. It’s more important to avoid this scenario altogether. We’ll look at what to do if this happens to you, and in Utility bills – who’s responsible and how to manage them we show you how to prevent it happening again.

Whose bill is it anyway?

Ultimately, the payment of utilities and taxes (often combined in one “rates” bill by the municipality) is the responsibility of the property owner. You may agree that these will be paid by the tenant, but if the tenant reneges on this obligation, the municipality will be within its rights to chase you as owner for payment.

The account may be registered in the tenant’s name, and you may have ensured a watertight wording in your lease agreement to this effect. But don’t take too much comfort from this. There have been many cases of tenants vacating premises and leaving accounts left unpaid. Property owners would deny responsibility as the account was in the tenant’s name. Municipalities, understandably, ran out of patience and many now do not allow the account to be in any name other than the registered owner of the property. If the account was registered prior to this decision, it may still be in the tenant’s name, but unfortunately that does not absolve you of the liability for the account.

Recovering unpaid bills from a tenant

Your first port of call is of course the deposit. For this reason it is a good idea not to be too hasty in returning the deposit after the tenant moves out. They will of course pressure you for prompt payment, particularly if they have to pay a deposit on a new property. But you are within your rights to ensure there are no outstanding unpaid bills against the property as well as checking the inventory and inspecting the property for damage. If you have taken two months’ rent as a deposit, hopefully you will have enough to cover what is owing. However, this may not be the case if the rates have gone unpaid for some time or if there are cleaning and repair bills to cover too. 

If the deposit in insufficient to offset the debt, in the first instance try to contact the tenant and ask for settlement. Be reasonable and offer to accept payment by instalments. An acknowledgment of debt signed by both parties is a good idea. If the tenant does not offer or is unable to pay the full amount upfront, you must pay the bill yourself. Failure to do so may result in the property’s utilities being cut off, which will only give you a bigger headache if you have new tenants or are trying to re-let the property. Recovering the debt is your problem, not the municipality’s.

Recovery via Small Claims Court

It is always better to settle amicably and out of court, but if that fails, and the debt is less than R20 000, you can pursue the debtor through the Small Claims Court. You do not need an attorney for this action and indeed are not permitted to be represented by one. Find your nearest Small Claims Court and contact the Clerk of the Court, who will instruct you in the procedure.

Help from the services of an expert lawyer

The Small Claims Court has limited powers. You may not be successful in recovering your unpaid municipal bills, or the amount may exceed R20 000. If you choose to continue to pursue your tenant for the money, you will need to sue them, using the services of a suitable law firm experienced in litigation. At this stage you will have to decide whether it is worth the hassle. Sometimes the prudent course of action is to cut one’s losses and move on. This is a personal decision, and we at SDLAW will support you if you choose to litigate.  

Prevention is better than cure

If you are reading this because you have been stung by a tenant, it is of little consolation to know that the situation could have been prevented. But presuming you will continue to lease your property and manage tenants, you will want to take the necessary steps in future to ensure you are not landed with an outgoing tenant’s rates bill again. Read Utility bills – who’s responsible and how to manage them to find out how to avoid this sting in the tail.

Seek the guidance of an expert eviction lawyer

If you need to pursue a tenant who has left you with unpaid municipal bills, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za to discuss your case in confidence. Eviction lawyers Johannesburg and Cape Town are experts in rental property and will help you choose the most appropriate course of action for your circumstances. We will also advise you on lease agreements and tenant screening to ensure your tenancies run smoothly in future.

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Utility bills – who’s responsible and how to manage them

The end of a tenancy is not the time to discover your tenant has not been paying the municipal bills or “rates” – property taxes and utility bills like electricity, water and sewerage, etc. At that stage you are faced with the difficult task of trying to recover the money. It is far better to ensure due process is in place from the outset of the occupancy to cover all bills that will accrue to the property. This is best done via a written lease agreement, which sets out the terms and conditions of the rental and can be as detailed as you like, clearly stating the responsibilities of tenant and landlord for every cost. For example, you may wish to differentiate between utilities like water and electricity and “add-ons” like WiFi and garden maintenance. 

Rental Housing Amendment Act

Remember that when the Rental Housing Amendment Act comes into force it will be a requirement to have a written lease. If you don’t have one now, it’s time to draw one up. You will only have six months from when the Act becomes law to comply. This is your chance to incorporate all these details into your rental agreement with your tenant. 

Prepaid electricity meters

One of the simplest ways to avoid disputes over electricity bills is to install a a prepaid electricity meter. This is becoming more and more common in rental properties. The landlord has the comfort of knowing the electricity is paid for, and the tenant has control over consumption and can make economies if necessary, an option not available if the rent is “all-in”, i.e. the landlord pays the bills and allows for the costs in the rent charged (see below). Many municipalities no longer allow electricity accounts to be in any name other than the registered property owner, so a prepaid meter is a good compromise. The landlord remains the responsible person, and the tenant has no choice but to pay for use. If the account is not in the owner’s name, perhaps because the tenant has been in situ for a long time, it is a good idea to have the account transferred, as the owner will be held liable regardless.

Other utility bills

If the municipal account is still in the tenant’s name and the tenant is responsible for payment, the landlord can ask the tenant for proof of payment each month. If this is not forthcoming or there is any suspicion of arrears, you as registered owner are entitled to ask the municipality for a copy of the account. If you exercise diligence in ensuring these accounts are up to date, you will avoid any nasty shocks at the end of the rental period. 

“All-in” rent

An option some landlords prefer is to take on the liability for all bills (sometimes with some exceptions as noted above). The rent is then adjusted to accommodate this. This is known as an “all-in rent”. There are pros and cons to this arrangement for both parties. For the tenant, it can be helpful, certainly in terms of budgeting, to have one monthly fee to pay. The cost of living in the property won’t vary summer to winter with changing consumption patterns. For those on a tight budget this can be a real boon. The downside, from the tenant’s perspective, is that there is no financial benefit to be gained from minimising consumption. (And this may lead to waste, a downside for the landlord.) The tenant also does not have any utility bills in their name, which can be a problem when address verification is needed for credit or other applications. However, the lease will usually suffice.

For the landlord, there are no concerns about unpaid bills. Everything is under their control. However, the adjusted rent is based on past average consumption. If the tenant is wasteful in their use of water, gas or electricity, the owner can be faced with a bill in excess of what has been included in the rent. The solution to this is a clause in the lease agreement stating that the landlord reserves the right to make a surcharge should consumption exceed reasonable amounts (“reasonable” can be difficult to define so the wording may refer to a figure or percentage). The landlord will also bear the burden of rate hikes, as they cannot increase the rent until the lease is due for renewal.

The alternative – charging utility bills to the tenant as they arise

A more transparent, albeit more labour-intensive, solution is to charge the utilities to the tenant as they arise. This means the landlord will always carry one month’s obligation for these costs and may still be left with unpaid bills at the end of the tenancy, but any liability will be limited and should be covered by the deposit. If this process is adopted, property owners should remember that tenants have a right to be treated fairly and equitably. It is good practice to:

  • Provide the tenant with copies of bills and meter readings
  • Give the tenant a formal invoice for their share of the costs as set out in the lease agreement
  • Avoid charging the tenant an estimate if the meter reading has not been done for the period. Many Rental Housing Tribunals do not support this practice. It is usually possible to email a photo of the meter reading to the municipality and request an accurate bill
  • Provide the tenant with a monthly statement and keep a record of all communications pertaining to utilities (this is particularly important for transparency where the rent is all-in)

It’s important to note that a property owner may not charge property taxes to the tenant. The cost can be factored into the rent, but may not be passed on to the tenant in a literal sense. 

Whether you opt for an all-in rent or charging the tenant on a PAYG basis, this can be a workable solution, particularly for a property owner who has been saddled with unpaid bills in the past. At the end of the lease, it is reasonable to deduct any amounts owing from the deposit, and this should not trigger a dispute, particularly if clearly stated in the lease.

Landlords may not…

Finally, if you hold control over power and water, it may be tempting to use this as leverage if your tenant fails to pay rent or breaches the lease conditions in any other way. Don’t do this! It is unlawful to disconnect your tenant’s electricity in the event of non-payment of rent. Disconnection without a court order is illegal. If your tenant is in arrears with rent, you must follow the correct eviction procedure as set out in the Rental Housing Act and Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and give them an opportunity to rectify the breach. 

Seek the guidance of an expert eviction lawyer

If you need help to draw up a lease agreement, screen tenants or negotiate utility bill arrangements with your tenant, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za to discuss your case in confidence. Eviction lawyers Johannesburg and Cape Town are experts in rental property and will help you select the best option for your circumstances. We will ensure your tenancies run smoothly, with no nasty shocks waiting in store for you.

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Eviction cost

How much does it cost to evict a tenant?

Eviction is an unpleasant word. It conjures up images of an uncaring landlord putting an unfortunate tenant out on the streets. It’s true that there are cases of unfair evictions. But for the most part, rental housing legislation now provides considerable protection to tenants and prevents the abuse of power by landlords that sometimes happened in the past.

Eviction cost - eviction lawyers

The law protects tenants…but it also assures property owners of certain rights. If you own property and it provides you with valuable income, you are entitled to enjoy your property and benefit financially from it without suffering misuse or abuse at the hands of your tenants. If the worst happens and you need to evict your tenants, what is the cost of eviction?

When should you consult an eviction attorney?

If the landlord-tenant relationship is harmonious, and both parties uphold the lease agreement, the word “eviction” is unlikely to arise. Eviction is the last resort when there is an unresolved breach of the lease. A breach can happen for a number of reasons, which may include failure to maintain the property or adhere to the conditions of the lease, but the most common cause for eviction is default in payment of rent. However, a landlord cannot simply evict a tenant for rent arrears. In fact, a landlord can’t evict a tenant at all. Only the courts can do that.

However tempting it may be to “do it yourself”, eviction is a legal process and it requires an eviction attorney. While you may wish to avoid eviction costs, delay in consulting an eviction lawyer can be a false economy. As the rent arrears pile up, you are losing money that may never be recovered. Spending money on expert eviction attorneys will ensure a speedier, smoother course of action and is likely to save you money in the long run – by limiting your losses and restoring the property to its income-earning status.

How much does an eviction cost?

The cost of an eviction will depend on the complexity of the situation. If a tenant is very stubborn and refuses to vacate the property, eviction costs can mount. An unopposed eviction will cost between R5 000 and R15 000. However, if the eviction is opposed, the cost can escalate to as much as R100 000 and the months can drag on. This is not a job for a layperson. Provided your eviction attorney follows the correct process, the court will award the eviction order – eventually – but getting the tenant out is another matter.

 

Call the Sheriff!

The court may grant your eviction order, but if the tenants simply dig their heels in and refuse to move, you may not legally remove them or their possessions from your property yourself. Only the Sheriff is authorised to do this. If you need the services of the Sheriff to forcibly effect the eviction, the cost will depend on the size of the property and the number of tenants. You can expect to pay from R1 000 to R10 000 in Sheriff’s costs.

Women and children first

Remember that PIE gives special consideration to vulnerable tenants – woman-headed households with children, the elderly and the disabled – so while you are not prohibited from evicting these tenants if they are in breach of the lease, you must allow them more time to find suitable alternative accommodation. This will add to your lost earnings and effectively increase the eviction cost, although it won’t generate additional legal costs.

Can you claim the eviction cost from the tenant?

While it may be technically possible to reclaim eviction charges from the tenant, in reality you are very unlikely to succeed in recouping your costs. If your tenant has defaulted on rent due to inability to pay, you may struggle even to recover the rent you are due. Expecting a financially stressed individual to come up with a five-figure sum in addition to unpaid rent is fanciful. You could sue for it, but the result will be the same. You can’t get blood out of a stone.

Consult a good eviction attorney

As we’ve highlighted, an eviction lawyer is essential if you have a troublesome tenant who doesn’t respond to reason and eviction is your only recourse. You can attempt to obtain an eviction order from the court yourself, but if you are not well versed in rental housing law your chances of success are much reduced. An eviction lawyer knows the intricacies of PIE and will make sure you don’t lose your case on a technicality.

Furthermore, an eviction attorney will save you money, despite the fee charged. If your rental income is R10 000 – R 20 000 per month it won’t take many months of rent arrears to lose you far more than your eviction will cost in legal fees. Cape Town lawyers Simon Dippenaar and Associates are experts in eviction law and will make sure your property is returned to its income-earning status as soon as possible! Contact Cape Town Eviction Attorneys on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za.

Source: Eviction Specialists

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