The relationship between landlord and tenant is a symbiotic one, where the efforts of either party results in the best outcome for both parties. During the lockdown, this two-way relationship between many tenants and landlords has been threatened. The biggest contributor to this is quite simple: a lack of information.

Paying your dues

One of the biggest impacts the lockdown has had on tenants is through affected income. Unfortunately, tenants are still required to pay the full rental amount if they are still able to occupy the property, regardless of how their income has been affected. Where income has been affected, tenants should discuss the possibility of a reduced rent directly with their landlords.

Landlords, however, also rely on rental income and cannot always afford to lower rental amounts. When this is the case, tenants can, technically, apply to the Rental Housing Tribunal to request a reduction in rent, but due to new cases not being heard at the moment, such a request is unlikely to be successful. The best option is for tenants to apply for State assistance, and so ensuring the least impact on both parties.

With these types of requests, it is important to note that landlords will have to be furnished with relevant personal information of the tenant to corroborate a tenant’s inability to pay their rent. The landlord will, however, be responsible for guarding the privacy of their tenant’s personal information in such a case.

Sticking to the rules

Even when the relationship is no longer a beneficial one, and becomes filled with strife, landlords may not terminate a lease or refuse services to tenants and may not insist on conducting an investigation of the property without the tenant’s express permission. Similarly, tenants may not cancel their leases during this time either. Such “threatening” actions are highly discouraged while the country is in any level of the lockdown.

As before, a tenant’s deposit may not legally be used to cover rental arrears, but only for its intended post-rental purposes. Deposits, along with the accrued interest, must be refunded to the tenants upon their exit, where only the necessary cost of repairs may be deducted.

Landlords are also still responsible for the maintenance of their properties, and for ensuring liveable conditions for their tenants. During any maintenance procedures landlords and workmen are obliged to adhere to social distancing and must follow adequate sanitising methods throughout. The landlord must also provide the necessary clothing and equipment for the procedures to be completed themselves.

End of lease

But while tenants may not be evicted and leases may not be terminated, the reality is that leases do come to an end. As far as possible, tenants and landlords are encouraged to continue their relationship, even if just on a month-to-month basis until moving house can be done without safety hazard. Where the continuance of a lease is not possible, tenants should obtain a permit from the SAPS allowing them to move freely during their relocation, and follow strict safety measures throughout the process.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)