Answer to a question from a reader

Can my landlord change the price I agreed to buy the house for?

The short answer

If it was a verbal agreement, there is nothing stopping him from changing the price.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

My landlord promised to sell his council house to us for R200,000. Now he wants to change it to R300,000. He has signed a letter giving me permission to stay in the house.

The long answer

What is not clear here is whether the landlord gave you written permission to stay in his council house after his promise to sell it to you for R200,000, or whether you were renting the council house from him before he promised to sell it to you.

Let’s separate the two issues:

  1. Can your landlord change his mind about the selling price after he has agreed to sell it to you for R200,000?

If the landlord promised verbally to sell the house to you for R200,000, in South Africa verbal agreements are generally as valid and binding as written ones, except when it comes to selling property. In that case, a written contract signed by both parties is legally required (in terms of the Alienation of Land Act 68 of 1981). 

An offer to purchase that sets out all the details including the sale price and occupation date becomes the legal document known as the sale agreement once it is signed by both parties. It is not possible to enforce an oral or verbal agreement, because it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove what the exact terms agreed upon were.  

So, in this case, you could not legally hold the landlord to his promise to sell you the house for R200,000.

  1. What are your rights as far as staying in his council house goes?

If you are currently renting the council house from him, he cannot evict you without a court order. In this time of the Level 4 adjusted lockdown, no evictions are allowed at all. Of course, this does not release you from the obligation of paying rent. If you are unable to pay the rent because of loss of wages during the lockdown, you should ask for a meeting where you explain your situation to him honestly and try to negotiate, in good faith, an agreement for reduced or deferred rent during this period.

The national disaster regulations published in July 2021 say that the following practices on the part of a landlord will be considered to be unfair practices, in terms of the Rental Housing Act:

(a) The termination of services in circumstances where-
(i) the landlord has failed to provide reasonable notice and an opportunity to make representations;
(ii) the landlord has failed, reasonably and in good faith, to make the necessary arrangements including to reach an agreement regarding alternative payment arrangements, where applicable; or
(iii) no provision has been made for the ongoing provision of basic services during the national state of disaster.

(b) The imposition of any penalty for the late payment of rental where the default is caused by the disaster, whether or not the penalty takes the form of an administrative charge or any other form other than interest.

(c) The failure of a landlord or tenant to engage reasonably and in good faith to make arrangements to cater for the exigencies of the disaster.

(d) Any other conduct prejudicing the ongoing occupancy of a place of residence, prejudicing the health of any person or prejudicing the ability of any person to comply with the applicable restrictions on movement that is unreasonable or oppressive having regard to the prevailing circumstances.

If it is not possible to reach an agreement with the landlord, you could ask the Rental Housing Tribunal (RHT) for assistance. The RHTs are independent bodies established under the Rental Housing Act of 1999, and were set up to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. Their rulings have the same power as those of a magistrate’s court. If either party is not satisfied with the ruling, they can take the case to the High Court. 

During the lockdown the Rental Housing Tribunals are not sitting, but according to the national state of disaster rules, they: 

  1. must determine fair procedures for the urgent hearing of disputes; or

  2. may grant an urgent ex parte spoliation order including to restore the occupation of a dwelling or access to services provided that an affected party may, on 24 hours’ notice, require that a hearing be promptly convened.

An ex parte spoliation order means, for example, restoring electricity that may have been illegally cut off by the landlord or allowing you to re-occupy the premises if you have been evicted.

You can contact the Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal for advice from Monday to Friday from 08h00 till 16h00:

Tel: Mr Nkosana Vaveki – 061 527 0878
For all general enquiries

For dispute related enquiries

If the landlord wants to sell the house to another buyer at a price you cannot afford, he can do so, but he cannot evict you. In terms of the “huur gaat voor koop” principle in South African law, (meaning that a tenant’s lease comes before selling in importance) the tenant can remain on the property until the lease expires and the new buyer must take over the lease. If your lease is from month to month, he has to give you a full calendar month’s notice, but still cannot evict you under the present lockdown rule. If he manages to obtain a court order to evict you, this will not be put into effect until after the lockdown ends.

You can also contact the following organisations to ask for legal advice around evictions:

  • Ndifuna Ukwazi at:

Tel: 081 832 9363


  • The Scalabrini Organisation at:

066 076 8845

  • the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa at: 

WhatsApp, call or 'please-call-me' to 073 226 4648 / 071 301 9676 / 083 720 6600


Wishing you the best,

Answered on July 12, 2021, 10:34 a.m.

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