tenants get more rights

People who collect rent from tenants or sectional title owners without the consent of landlords or bodies corporate face up to two years' jail, including the seizure of their assets.

People who collect rent from tenants or sectional title owners without the consent of landlords or bodies corporate face up to two years' jail, including the seizure of their assets.

And landlords who deprive tenants of services or facilities by "inducing them to vacate or return land or buildings" may also face criminal charges.

This is according to the amendments to the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land (Pie) Act now tabled in Parliament.

Trafalgar, the company that looks at developments in the Johannesburg inner city, described the amendments as contentious and most dramatic. Its chief executive, Andrew Schaefer, says they will criminalise the hijacking of property rentals and "constructive eviction" by landlords.

The amendments will also correct an unintended appeal court judgment seven years ago that included tenants in the protection of land invaders by Pie, Schaefer says.

What makes the amended Act more contentions, says Schaefer, is the unhappiness it has caused landlords, who are concerned that while the changes could see them jailed if a tenant's electricity is cut for any reason, it does not criminalise tenants who refuse to pay rent.

Shaefer says: "I think some of the terms of the bill might be softened. But landlords should start getting used to the idea that their relationship with the occupants of their residential properties is as much social as economic."

Citing the current Rental Housing Act, Schaefer believes the government is sincere in wanting to balance the rights of tenants with its reliance on private enterprise to provide large-scale rental housing that it can't afford to do itself.

Schaefer says: "Amendments also include constructive eviction - that is making the lives of tenants so miserable that they are forced to leave - as a criminal act."

It will definitely curtail new rental development in its current form, he says, "just as the hijacking of flats in various ways has seen the rental fabric in the CBD deteriorating so badly".

He says people have moved into buildings claiming that landlords or managing agents are corrupt and divert rents to themselves. This has led to landlords not being able to pay for electricity and water, resulting in problems for tenants.

Section 2 of the Act will be amended to make it easier to evict building tenants and homeowners who default on mortgage loans.

But Schaefer says that landlords would still be required to go through procedures that will prevent rapid evictions, including getting a court order and giving 10 days' notice of the court date.

The Constitution prohibits evictions without a court order. Until now, police have refused to act against hijackers of land or buildings, saying it is a civil matter.

Schaefer says the amendments will free 1000 dilapidated buildings for regeneration.

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