Answer to a question from a reader

Can my landlord increase the rent twice in four months?

The whole question

My landlord increased my rent in July and September. We did not sign a lease. Neither has he given me receipts for my payments.

He now wants me to vacate the property.

The long answer

There are four issues here:

  • The twice yearly increase

  • The lease

  • The receipts for the rent paid

  • Ending the lease / vacating the property.

The simplest issue is the receipts: The landlord is legally obliged to give you a receipt for rent paid in terms of Section 5(3) of the Rental Housing Act of 1999.

The lease: Although you don’t have a signed lease, the fact that you pay rent each month and the landlord accepts it, means that you do have a lease, and have the rights that any rent-paying tenants have. A lease can be verbal or written, but it exists if you pay him money to stay in his house and he accepts it. The lease is usually as long as the period between your rent payments, so if you pay rent every month, there is an implied month-to-month lease.

The increase in July and again in September: Most leases will specify by how much the rent will increase at the end of a twelve-month period. There is no law that lays down a limit for how much a landlord can increase his rental. But that doesn’t mean that the landlord can just charge what he likes; it has to be a reasonable increase, which means that the landlord has to be able to justify his figure according to the market average for the area. A twice yearly increase may well be found to be unfair and unreasonable by the Rental Housing Tribunal.

The Rental Housing Tribunals are set up in terms of the Rental Housing Act of 1999, and exist to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. They provide a free service and can be used by tenants, landlords and property agents. The idea is to strike a balance between the rights of landlords to make a reasonable return on their investment and the rights of tenants to be protected against excessive and exploitative rents.

The tribunals (RHT) have the power to decide on a wide variety of issues which include non-payment of rents, exploitative rentals and what a fair rental is. The tribunal’s decision is binding on both tenant and landlord.

To lodge a complaint with the RHT, you can either go in person or send a letter to the relevant RHT office. You can find out where your local one is by phoning 0860 106 166. You will need the following:

  • Your ID / permit / passport

  • Lease agreement (if there is a written one)

  • Proof of payments made

  • Proof of the physical address of both parties

  • Contact telephone numbers

From an article by Jackie Gray-Parker, these are the seven steps involved when lodging a complaint with an RHT:

1: The first step involves opening a file for each complainant
2: A letter is sent to all parties which outlines the nature of the complaint
3: The RHT will conduct a preliminary investigation
4: A mediation session will be arranged to try and resolve the matter. If no agreement is reached, the matter will be referred for a tribunal hearing or arbitration
5: Once arbitration has taken place, a binding ruling will be handed down to both parties
6: Any ruling will be enforced in terms of the Magistrate’s Court Act
7: If one of the parties is dissatisfied with the outcome, he/she can have the matter reviewed by a High Court

It shouldn’t take longer than three months from the time you lodge the complaint for it to be resolved by the tribunal. While the complaint is being handled by the tribunal, the landlord is not allowed to evict you, and you have to continue paying rent.

Ending the lease / evicting you: Section 4(5)(c) of the Rental Housing Act says that a landlord cannot bring a lease to an end if to do so would amount to an “unfair practice”, or would be unreasonable, unjust or inequitable. The tribunal can decide when the termination of a lease is unfair, and can set aside the termination of the lease if it was unfair. As noted above, you cannot be evicted while your complaint is being handled by the tribunal.

If you or your landlord are unhappy with the outcome of the tribunal, either of you can ask the High Court to review the outcome.

If you are in Cape Town, you could ask Ndifuna Ukwazi for advice as this organisation has represented tenants from Salt River at the tribunal:

Address: 18 Roeland Street, City Centre, Cape Town

Tel: 021 012 5094

Wishing you all the best.

Answered on Nov. 18, 2019, 4:02 p.m.

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