Solution to rental disputes

Greater awareness among Western Cape landlords and tenants regarding the Rental Housing Tribunal may prove beneficial, writes ANNA-MARIE SMITH

CAPE NEWS

THE Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal was appointed by government in 2001 and acts independently as a local watchdog to protect both parties involved in rental agreements of residential property.

Appointed by the provincial minister of housing in the department of local government and housing, primarily to promote stability in the rental housing sector and to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants of residential dwellings, it serves to reduce inconvenience and cost to the disputants.

The Rental Housing Tribunal, an order of a magistrate’s court made in terms of the Magistrates’ Court Act of 1944, aims at the speedy resolve of disputes through the justice system that may previously have clogged in the legal system for any length of time.

Attorney Salim Patel, currently serving a fifth year in second term on the Western Cape Tribunal, says that all parties involved in residential property letting should become more familiar with the workings of both the Rental Housing and Prevention of Illegal Eviction Acts, as well as recent amendments to these acts.

The RHT consists of five members, including a chair and vice-chairperson, who have expertise in property management, housing development and consumer matters pertaining to rental housing.

The RHT, assisted by the Support Component of the Directorate Housing Settlement, seeks to harmonise relationships between landlords and tenants, to resolve disputes arising from unfair practices, to inform landlords and tenants about their rights and obligations in terms of the Rental Housing Act, and to make recommendations to relevant stakeholders.

Each RHT office comprises three to five members appointed serving three-year terms that are renewable, and include attorneys, advocates, property professionals, and experts in consumer matters, elected by the Minister of Housing. The tribunal’s staff component includes inspectors, technical advisors and administrative support staff.

The RHT has the authority to arrange mediations or sub poena parties to hearings, and its ruling is deemed to be a judgment of a Magistrate’s Court.

The RHT can, in addition, impose a fine and/or imprisonment, and has the authority to deal with disputes, complaints or problems that include: non-payment of rentals, refund of security deposit, invasion of tenants’ privacy, overcrowding, determination of whether rental are exploitative , unlawful seizure of tenants goods, discrimination by landlord against a prospective tenant, receipts not issued, tenant conducting a nuisance, maintenance and repairs, illegal lockout and disconnection of services.

Not all Western Cape letting agents are aware of the existence of the RHT, or the workings of it as an independent government appointed body.

But, to those agents specialising in rentals of large properties such as apartment blocks, the RHT is a well known alternative for legal discourse. An established Cape Town city agent, the Permanent Trust Property Group says the RHT replaced the old “Rent Board”, previously only representing tenants, whereas the RHT acts on behalf of both tenants and landlords.

This rental agent who has had regular and recent dealings with the local tribunal praised the professional manner in which hearings are conducted, where deviation from the subject matter is not tolerated and an efficient service is rendered to all parties concerned. They say landlords should take note that once a complaint has been lodged with the tribunal, all proceedings against tenants have to seize
until such time as the case has been resolved.

Although this may result in delays such as rental income, hearings are conducted timeously, and the tribunal has a reputation for being “most obliging”.

When disputes arise, landlords or tenants may file complaints to the closest RHT office where cases are registered, followed by written correspondence to relevant parties, providing dates, times and places that the case will be mediated or heard, allowing respondents to file a counter-claim against the complainant.

Should mediation between the parties occur, the mediator does not have the power to make a ruling, but advises the parties of legal implications relating to the dispute, and assists in finding a solution.

At the conclusion of a successful mediation, parties may request that the agreement be made a ruling of the tribunal, and when unsuccessful cases are referred to the tribunal for hearings.

During hearings parties or authorised representatives may present a case, put forward any relevant evidence, and cross examine each other, and tribunal members may question other parties. An inspection report regarding the state of the dwelling may also be discussed dependent on the type of dispute.

An adjournment of the tribunal provides for the examination of evidence rulings are usually issued on the same day.

For educational purposes regarding the legal requirements of residential letting, homeowners, landlords,
tenants, agents and attorneys, in co-operation with Get Smarter, can attend a one-day residential property letting workshop at the University of Cape Town to be presented by Salim Patel and Prof Graham Paddock.

The workshop will empower students in their understanding of the Rental Housing Act and the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act, and will include all recent amendments. For further information see www.getsmarter.co.za and www.capegateway.gov.za/housing.

Article by: ANNA-MARIE SMITH - www.businessday.co.za