Tenant wants deposit back

THERE are landlords who continue to flout the law because they think tenants have no rights.

THERE are landlords who continue to flout the law because they think tenants have no rights.

But gone are the days when landlords thought they could withhold a tenant's deposit because the tenant terminated the contract before its expiry date.

Most provisions of the New Consumer Protection Act will come into effect in October this year.

Section 14 of the Act, which was signed into law last April, allows a tenant who has signed a fixed-term lease to terminate it before its due expiry date.

The tenant can give 20 business days notice of termination to the landlord and the landlord will be entitled to a reasonable cancellation penalty.

Khandesi Muhau is still battling to get back the deposit she paid to her landlord Susan Jardine.

Muhau had entered into a 12-month contract with Jardine, but terminated it before its expiry date.

Muhau rented a flat in Braamfontein. The contract was for a 12-months period, but she terminated it after six months.

"The owner does not want to refund my money and has not explained the reason why I must forfeit it," said Muhau.

She terminated the contract early because of financial constraints. She paid her rent for September though she knew she was not going to occupy the flat for that month.

"I did not use the flat in September, but paid her the full rental for that month so she cannot say she was disadvantaged by my leaving as she found another tenant straight away," she said.

Muhau said that nowhere in the contract does it state she would forfeit the deposit should she leave before the expiry of the contract.

She paid a deposit of R3500 and her monthly rental was R3500.

Attempts to get comment from Jardine have been futile.

She did not respond to an e-mail from Sowetan.

Section 14 of the Consumer Protection Act allows a tenant who has signed a fixed-term lease to terminate it before its expiry date by giving 20 business days notice of termination to the landlord. The landlord is entitled to a reasonable cancellation penalty.

Muhau said she thinks the rental for September was a reasonable penalty as she did not use her premises and believes that Jardine has been unfairly enriched at her expense as she (Jardine) found a new tenant.

The Consumer Protection Act will come into operation on October 24 2010.

It is not the only act that protects consumers against unscrupulous landlords.

The Rental Housing Act also sets out the duties and responsibilities of both landlord and tenant. It also provides for the establishment of rental-housing tribunals in the provinces, thus allowing for a speedy and cost-effective resolution of disputes between landlords and tenants.

Among other things, the Act prescribes that any deposit a tenant pays before moving in must be invested into a separate, interest- bearing account.

The balance of deposit and interest must be refunded to the tenant not later than 21 days after the expiry of the lease.

Consumers who have complaints can approach the Rental Housing Tribunal in their respective province for help.

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