New law will criminalise South African landlords – warning

landlordsThere’s never been a better time to regularise your arrangements with your tenants, preferably under the watchful eye of a lawyer. Landlords will soon face criminal charges if they fail to have a written lease that includes specific features stipulated in amendments to the Rental Housing Act. I can understand that some tenants are treated badly by landlords, but this is yet another layer of red-tape that will deter individuals from investing in much-needed formal housing in South Africa. – JC

Patrick Bracher
Patrick Bracher warns that new legislation will criminalise landlords. So, if you own rental property, urgently check your lease agreement.

By Patrick Bracher*

The amendments being introduced to the Rental Housing Act will make criminals of thousands of ordinary people.

The law will require all landlords to reduce every lease agreement to writing.  This includes any landlord who lets or sublets any house, hostel room, hut, shack, flat, apartment, room, outbuilding, garage or similar structure including storerooms, outbuildings, garages or demarcated parking spaces that are leased with those dwellings.  That is everybody and everything to do with renting out a place to stay.

If the landlord does not put the lease in writing with all the terms required by the act (which includes some elaborate provisions about deposits, privacy and pre- and post-rental inspections) the landlord is guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine or imprisonment up to two years.  It is an absolute certainty that thousands of people will be letting out houses and shacks and huts and all sorts of other dwellings without complying with this law.  There is no point in criminalising this behaviour.  It’s unfair and it’s unenforceable.

The solution is easy.  Make a law which says if you do not put the lease in writing it will contain the terms set out in the law.  The landlord then has a choice to enter into a written lease or to be subject to the reasonable legislated terms of what a lease should contain.

* Patrick Bracher is director in the banking and finance team at Norton Rose Fulbright, a global legal practice with  more than 3800 lawyers based in over 50 cities across Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

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