Tenants VS Landlords: Who Should Pay For What In South Africa?


There’s been an age-old push and pull between tenants and landlords on who should be paying for what. In this article, I’m going to finally settle the score, so that there’s no more confusion.

Before I dive into the different utilities and repairs, I quickly want to cover these two common questions.

Do verbal tenant agreements still hold in court in South Africa?

According to eviction Lawyers South Africa, a verbal tenant agreement is still a legal contract. So if it’s breached either by a tenant or landlord, you could take legal action through the Rental Housing Tribunal (RHT) of South Africa, by either walking into an RHT office or by calling them on either 0860-106-166, 011-355-4000, or 012-483-5020.

That said, the Rental Tribunal Housing will enforce written tenant agreements in the upcoming month, so if you haven’t done so already it’s highly recommended that you get request a lease from your landlord.

Are landlords allowed to switch off your water or lights if you’ve missed a payment?

According to the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999, landlords are not allowed to switch off any of your utilities including your water and electricity even if you missed a rental payment. Willfully cutting electricity and water to a tenants property is considered a criminal offence, unless it’s done in the case of a emergency.

Now that you have a baseline understanding of your rights as a tenant and landlord, here’s a breakdown of who should be payment for what.

Municipality Levies & Service Charges

Occasionally municipality levies service charges will crop up after you’ve already written a lease agreement, so who should pay for this? Landlord or tenant?

Usually, the landlord will pay for unforeseen municipality levies and service charge fees unless it has been stipulated in the lease agreement that the tenant will cover new levies and charges.

Look at your lease agreement and find a section that discusses “new levies and charges,” if there’s no mention of this then your landlord should cover it.

Sewerage (Utility)

Sewerage get’s charged by the municipality and falls under utilities. Who should pay for it, landlord or tenant?

Generally speaking, tenants do not pay for sewerage in South Africa; however, it depends on what was agreed on in the lease. If the tenant agreed to pay for sewerage in the lease agreement, then the tenant should pay for sewerage costs, if there’s no mention of sewerage in the lease agreement, then the landlord should cover sewerage costs.

Water bill (Utility)

Water is another utility expense charged by the municipality. Who should pay it though? Tenant or landlord?

Generally speaking, tenants usually pay the water bill in South Africa unless specified otherwise through either a signed or verbal lease agreement.

Electricity (Utility)

Electricity bills are usually paid by the tenant in South Africa unless specified otherwise on the lease agreement whether that’s verbal or on paper.

Municipal Rates & Taxes

So rate charges would include garbage collection, street maintenance and street lights, or just about anything service related that get’s collected from the municipality. So should tenants or landlords pay this?

According to the Municipal Property Rates Act (No. 6 of 2004), the property owner or landlord is liable to pay all municipal rates. That said, section 28 of this act also allows the municipality to collect rates from the tenant themselves, however the tenant may deduct this amount from their rent owed to the landlord.

Levies

Levies include all property-related maintenance within townhouses, flats, and complexes, etc, that’s enforced by the body of corporate of the property. So who should pay levies?

Levies are generally paid by the landlord and not the tenant in South Africa unless agreed upon otherwise on a written, or verbal lease agreement.

Building Insurance

Building insurance is a must! It usually covers property from any unforseen acceidents such as fire, or natural disasters. So should landlords or tenants be responsible for this expense?

In South Africa, landlords are generally responsible to make sure the property is fully insured. That said, all building insurance payments are usually covered by the landlord.

General Repairs

Things will break from time to time, such as geysers, windows and remote controlled gates. But when these maintenance costs spring up, who should pay? Landlord or tenant?

Landlords are generally responsible for “everyday wear and tear” caused by day to day use as well as elements such as sun and rain. That said, it’s the tenant’s job to maintain the property and to pay for repairs outside of “everyday wear and tear.” So if something needs to be repaired a lot sooner than it usually would because of misuse etc, then this would usually fall on the tenant.

For example, if something big breaks like the geyser or airconditioning, then the landlord would have to fix it. On the other hand if something small breaks through use, it’s usually the tenant’s responsibility.

That said, it should be made extremely clear in the lease agreements who is responsible for what to avoid any friction in the future,

Appliance (Repairs)

Often when tenants move into a property there will be a microwave, stove and if you’re lucky you’ll maybe even get a fridge or a dishwasher, however, who maintains all these appliances.

Generally speaking, if a landlord supplied an appliance, they will repair it because it’s in their best interest to do so. That said, it’s more of a gentleman’s agreement, the landlord is not obligated to fix appliances unless it was agreed upon in the lease agreement.

Light bulbs (Repairs)

Light bulbs can be a pain, replacing them can sometime seem never ending. So who should supply them?

Tenants generally buy and replace light bulbs in South Africa unless otherwise stipulated in the lease agreement itself.

Painting (Repairs)

Generally speaking, the landlord would usually paint the home in-between rentals to attract new tenants. That said, if you’re a long term tenants of 3+ years and the walls are really starting to look dull, who should pay to get the painting done?

Generally, tenants will paint the home out of their own expense if they wish unless otherwise agreed upon in the lease agreement. It’s also common that the landlords would require that tenants maintain the walls, and if not they could even take painting costs out of your deposit once you move out. That said, again, this would have to be made very clear in the lease agreement.

It all boils down to what’s mentioned in the lease agreement!

Broken window (Repairs)

Windows can be extremely expensive, I don’t know about you but when I hear a window break, all I hear is money flushing down the toilet. So who’s money is it? The landlord or the tenant?

Tenants will generally pay for broken windows as long as the window broke while they were living on the premises According to the Rental Housing Act, if the tenant causes damage to the property, the landlord may claim expenses incurred.

If the window was already broken when you moved in, then the landlord would have to pay, however, this should have been spotted and reported during your initial inspection of the property before moving in. So proving that it broke before you moved in might be difficult.

Carpet Cleaning or Replacement (Repairs)

It’s the tenant’s responsibility to keep carpets clean, however, it’s usually the landlords responsibility for “fair wear and tear.” So if the carpet is reaching the end of its life through normal wear and tear, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to replace it.

Clogged Toilet (Repairs)

Clogged toilets can happen because of two reasons, one reason will be on the tenant, the other would be the landlords problem.

If the toilet was clogged because you flushed something down it other than toilet paper then the tenant will have to pay the repair costs. If the toilet clogged because of poor maintenance or because of everyday use, then the landlord will have to pay the repair costs.

Of course at first you won’t know who’s fault it is, but once you get a plumber to fix it, they’ll be able to give the verdict.

Blocked Drains (Repairs)

Blocked drains are usually repaired at the landlord’s expense. Since blocked drains are generally caused by roots or other unforeseen reasons, it falls under “everyday wear and tear” which is the landlord’s responsibility.

That said, the deciding factor would be your lease agreement, so read over it and look for the section that talks about “everyday wear and tear.”

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