Answer to a question from a reader

What can I do about my landlord trying to force us to move out?

The short answer

It is illegal for your landlord to turn off the electricity and lock you out.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I was retrenched because of the Covid-19 pandemic. My disabled mother and I were going to move out of our home because we couldn't afford to pay the rent. The landlord said that he would reduce our monthly rent until I found a new job. Using my mother's pension, we have been paying our rent as agreed and have never missed a payment. Despite this, our landlord is trying to evict us. He switches off the electricity and has locked me out. 

The long answer

No one can be evicted in South Africa without a court order even when there are no lockdown restrictions. 

The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Prevention of Illegal Occupation of Land Act (PIE) of 1998 applies: if your landlord wants to evict you, he must apply for a court order, even though the order cannot be carried out during lockdown unless the court explicitly says it can be. The landlord must notify you of his intention to get a court order to evict you. Then, when he has applied to court and has got a date for the court hearing, he must give you a copy of the notice from the court. 

You have to be notified in writing of the date that the court will hear the eviction application and you have the right to give your side of the story in court. The court has to decide whether it would be fair and just to evict you and whether you will be left homeless if you are evicted. The court also has to take into account the effect the eviction would have on vulnerable people like your disabled mother. The municipality must also attend the court hearing and tell the court whether they can provide emergency accommodation for you if the eviction is granted. If the eviction is granted, you must be given the date when it will take place, and that date must ensure that you are given a reasonable amount of time to move. You can only be evicted by the sheriff of the court if you have not left by the date given.

Under the present lockdown restrictions, the court order, if granted, must be held over till the end of the lockdown; it can be only be carried out presently if the court explicitly agrees that this is in order. The court is unlikely to grant an eviction when you have continued to pay the rent as agreed.

You could approach the Rental Housing Tribunal: this is an independent provincial body that hears complaints about unfair practices and resolves disputes between landlords and tenants free of charge. The Tribunal has the power to urgently restore occupation or services to tenants who have been illegally evicted or had their electricity illegally cut off. This is in terms of an “ex parte spoliation order”, which means that the Tribunal can act without giving the landlord the right to be heard, though the landlord can ask for an urgent hearing on 24 hours’ notice.

The tribunal has the power to issue a written order to a landlord or tenant to appear at a mediation or hearing. Whatever agreement is reached through mediation or whatever ruling is laid down by the tribunal through a hearing or arbitration is the same as a magistrate’s court ruling. If the ruling is not carried out by either the landlord or the tenant, they can be fined or sent to jail. 

The first step is to fill out a Rental Housing Tribunal complaint form. You can contact the tribunal at, or at 0860 106 166, or you can get this form at the help desk of the provincial housing offices (The Department of Human Settlements). In Cape Town, this is at 27 Wale Street in Cape Town. There are two forms: the complaint form (or “unfair practices” form) and the annexures form.

You should include as much detail as you can when filling out the complaint form. For the annexures form, you need to include a certified copy of your ID, your address and the landlord’s address, your contact details and the landlord’s, the lease agreement if there is one or the terms of the verbal agreement if there isn’t one, and proof of payment where possible. You then lodge the complaint with the tribunal – in person at the provincial housing offices, by email or by post. 

Once the complaint has been lodged, and until the date of the hearing or mediation, the landlord may not evict you. You must continue to pay rent and the landlord must continue to maintain and repair the property.

It should take about two weeks for the tribunal to get back to you. They will investigate the complaint and decide if it is an unfair practice. They will try to resolve it by mediation but, if an agreement can’t be reached, they will conduct a hearing or arbitration where they will make a ruling. They will send the date of the mediation to both you and your landlord.

You might want to consult Legal Aid, which is a means-tested government organisation, that must assist people who cannot afford a lawyer. These are their contact details:

Legal Aid Advice Line (Toll-free): 0800 110 110

Legal Aid Ethics Hotline: 0800 153 728

Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179

Wishing you the best,

Answered on May 28, 2021, 2:09 p.m.

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