'Tenants' safety more vital than rent'

Hostel Room - Stock image
Hostel Room - Stock image

Did you know that a landlord cannot withhold deposits of vacating tenants when their lives are in danger?

According to Keletso Makeng of the Housing Tribunal, a landlord has a duty to use reasonable care to safeguard his tenants from foreseeable criminal activity. Failure to do so is a breach of contract.

She said the history of crime in a neighbourhood enhances the duty of a landlord to take reasonable steps to prevent criminal activity on the property.

Tashinga Zvanyadza, 30, of eMalahleni in Mpumalanga gave emergency notice late last month after their complex was broken into almost every week . She said she rented property in Windsor Court in April because she wanted to be near her place of work .

Zvanyadza said the flats belong to Carel Kuun of Die Carel Kuun Families Trust. She signed a one-year contract and paid a deposit of R5700, which was refundable with interest at the end of the term.

But in September they experienced a spate of criminal activity where tenants' cars were broken into and clothing, television sets and remote controls for the gate were stolen. The flats accommodate 10 tenants and all had to find alternative and safer accommodation as their landlord allegedly did nothing to ensure their safety after they had reported the crimes.

"In less than a week the thugs came back and stole a van from the tenants, but Carel Kuun, the landlord, did nothing after he had promised to re-programme the remote controls," Zvanyadza said.

She said this prompted other tenants to move out because they feared for their lives since the thieves had access to the flats.

Zvanyadza said only she and her cousin, who shared the flat, remained because they had not found a place to stay. She said although there was a security guard, they felt terrorised as the thieves returned and stole their spare wheel, clothes and unsuccessfully tried to open their back door.

"We then gave the landlord emergency notice because we realised we were in danger," she said.

Although Kuun promised to refund their deposit, he never did, but instead accused them of breaking things in the flat. She said Kuun did not conduct an inspection when they moved in even though she insisted it should be done.

"He wanted to charge us for the same things we told him were broken when we occupied that flat."

Zvanyadza said there were times when she would return from work and find the main gate wide open. At times, she said, it would be unattended and unlocked when she left for work, although it was guarded.

Kuun confirmed there were break-ins but said he had employed two security guards to take care of the flats.

Makeng said the Rental Housing Act: Unfair Practices Regulations, were clear on the landlord's responsibility to offer a property that is fit for human habitation and has proper security before committing to a lease agreement.

She said Zvanyadza must lodge a complaint with their office and they will investigate the matter.

"It is true that we had break-ins due to tenants moving out and less movement around the block, however, due to this, we appointed first a night-time guard and then later also a day-time guard," Kuun said.

He said this was done specifically because they only had two tenants left, and the guards would remain in place until the block was full again.

"Because of this, and the fact that we mainly appointed the guards for her protection and then she still left without giving notice, we cannot pay back the deposit," Kuun insisted.