Making full use of the Rental Housing Tribunal
The Rental Housing Act provides for the establishment of the Rental Housing Tribunal which is a statutory body equipped with mechanisms to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. The services it provides are free and are therefore a cost-effective approach in dealing with any rental dispute.
Any tenant or landlord or group of tenants or landlords or interest group may lodge a complaint with the Tribunal concerning an unfair practice. Unfair practices are defined as practices unreasonably prejudicing the rights or interests of a tenant or a landlord and may include, amongst others:
- Non-payment of rentals, failure to refund deposits & exploitative rentals
- Overcrowding & unacceptable living conditions
- Forced entry & obstruction of entry
- Failure to carry out maintenance of the property by Landlord
- Tennant activities
- Damage to property
- Service cuts-offs without a court order
- Harassment, intimidation, threats, lock outs, illegal evictions
- Rights and duties of the landlords and tenants
Complaints can be lodged personally by a party at the office of the Tribunal in the prescribed complaint form, which is available from the Tribunal’s offices.
Once a complaint is lodged and until the Tribunal has made a ruling on the matter or a period of three months has elapsed, no landlord may evict any tenant and the tenant must continue to pay rental in accordance with the rental agreement.
After the initiation of a complaint the process is as follows:
- A file is opened and the particulars of the complainant(s), the respondent(s) and the dwelling are entered into a register.
- Notification is sent to all parties informing them of the particulars of the complaint that has been lodged.
- The Tribunal will conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether the complaint relates to a dispute in respect of a matter which may constitute an unfair practice.
- A Mediator is appointed and a Mediation is scheduled to explore the possibility of resolving the dispute, if there is no agreement between the parties during the mediation proceedings then the matter is referred for a Tribunal hearing. The tribunal will conduct a hearing and may make a ruling which it considers just and fair under the circumstances. Such a ruling is binding on both parties.
- A ruling by the Tribunal is deemed to be an order of a magistrate’s court in terms of the Magistrates’ Court Act and is enforced in terms of that Act.
A person who fails to comply with a tribunal ruling or a request by the Tribunal could be found guilty of an offence and may liable to a fine or imprisonment not exceeding two years or to both fine and imprisonment. It is evident that the Tribunal has proper powers and compliance with any ruling by the Tribunal is of paramount importance.
Both tenants and landlords should ensure that that any rental agreement or lease between them is set out in writing. It is important to formally record the duties, rights and obligations of the parties in an agreement in order to avoid any dispute. The Rental Housing Act provides that tenants may request landlords to reduce a lease to writing and landlords are obliged to adhere to such requests.
Author: Robin Twaddle & Associates