The Rental Housing Tribunal Demystified

A Rental Housing Tribunal (RHT) is an independent body appointed by the Provincial Minister of Housing to promote stability in the rental housing sector and to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants of residential dwellings with the least amount of inconvenience and cost to the disputants.

It aims to offer a speedy process of justice to resolving disputes that would otherwise remain clogged in the legal system for months, if not years. Each tribunal office consists of 3 . 5 members that are appointed to serve a term of three years, and if appropriate, can be extended for a further three years. The members include attorneys, advocates, property professionals, and experts in consumer matters related to rental housing elected by the Minister of Housing. The tribunal also has a staff component that includes inspectors, technical advisors and administrative support staff.

A RHT has the authority to arrange mediations or subpoena parties to a hearing. The ruling of the Tribunal is deemed to be a judgment of a Magistrates 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f 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.

When a dispute arises between a landlord and tenant, the landlord or tenant may file a complaint by either posting, faxing or emailing a complaint form to the RHT office, or by filling in a complaint form at their closest RHT office. A case manager will then open a case file and enter the names of the complainant and respondent, a summary of the nature of the complaint and a case number into the register. A letter is then sent to the parties regarding the complaint filed. Parties are also informed of the date, time and place that the case will be mediated or heard. At this stage the respondent can also file a counter-claim against the complainant.

In the case of mediation between the parties, the mediator does not have the power to make a ruling, the mediators role is to advise the parties about the law relating to the dispute, and help them find a solution. At the conclusion of a successful mediation, parties can ask for the agreement to be made a ruling of the tribunal. If the mediation is not successful, the case will be referred to the tribunal for a hearing.

In a hearing, the parties (or their authorized representatives) will be given the opportunity to present their case, and to put forward any relevant evidence. Parties have the right to cross examine each other, and tribunal members may ask questions of the parties. An inspection report regarding the state of the dwelling may also be discussed dependent on the type of dispute. The Tribunal will adjourn to examine the evidence, and usually , on the same day, will give its ruling.

Landlords, tenants and letting agents are encouraged to educate themselves on the legal requirements of residential letting to avoid negative consequences down the line and perhaps even a hearing at the RHT.

Article by: By Salim Patel, chairman of the Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal