Answer to a question from a reader

What can you do if you’re unable to pay rent during lockdown?

The short answer

No one can be evicted during the lockdown for any reason.

The whole question

One of my friends is a long-term rental tenant and regularly pays his rent. There are no arears. Both he and his wife were financially affected by the national lockdown. He told me that they are unable to pay their rent this month and that their landlord is not willing to give them a payment holiday. What advice can I give him regarding his legal rights in this situation?

The long answer

According to the regulations published in the Government Gazette on 26 March, no one could be evicted during the lockdown for any reason. According to the new regulations for Level 4, a landlord may apply for an eviction order from the court in terms of the PIE Act (Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act of 1998), but the actual eviction can only be carried out after Level 4 is lifted.

Under the PIE Act, the landlord has to inform the tenant that he is seeking a court order to evict the tenant and the tenant must be given written notice of the court date when the eviction application will be discussed. The tenant as well as the landlord must attend the court hearing and they will both be given a chance to give their side of the story. The tenant can request to be represented by Legal Aid. The local municipality must also attend the court hearing to indicate what emergency accommodation it can supply if the eviction order is granted. The court must be satisfied that eviction would be a just and fair decision in the circumstances. Given that your friend has never been in arrears with his rent before the coronavirus crisis, it seems unlikely that the court would opt for eviction.

Since the courts have only been dealing with urgent matters such as the removal of children, cases involving violence and the granting of bail since the lockdown began, there is bound to be a large backlog of cases once the courts go back to functioning normally.

Landlords have been urged to be accommodating towards tenants who cannot pay their rent in this time, and to work out some kind of repayment agreement to kick in once the crisis is over. Tenants have been urged to negotiate with their landlords for deferred payment or reduction in rent in this time. The landlord and tenant may also agree that the tenant will only pay towards rates and taxes.

Landlords who depend on rents to cover their municipal rates and taxes can also approach their municipalities for relief. In the Western Cape, the City of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Overstrand and Mosssel Bay municipalities are all offering some form of relief to landlords who have fallen behind with payments due to tenants not being able to pay rents.

So, as the landlord may not evict your friend during the Level 4 Alert, and it will certainly take some time to secure an eviction order afterwards, perhaps your friend should approach the landlord again to negotiate an agreement. The fact that he has always been a good tenant before is a strong point in his favour, and will also carry weight with the court, should the landlord seek an eviction order.

Answered on May 8, 2020, 10:24 a.m.

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Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.