Answer to a question from a reader

My complex is without water and power because the private rental company failed to pay the bills. They refuse to take ownership. What can we do?

The short answer

Start by laying a complaint with your provincial Rental Housing Tribunal to hold the management to account.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

Water and electricity have been shut off at the complex where I live because the rental company owes City Power about R4-million. Two men posing as City Power officials reconnected the power illegally, per the management's instruction, but were caught by real City Power officials and then arrested. The tenants invited the complex management to a meeting mediated by a lawyer so that they could answer our complaints, but the rental company did not show up. They denied any wrongdoing. What can we do to rectify this situation?

The long answer

The fact that you are still without electricity and water is a damning indictment of the company.

I think the place to start is by laying a complaint with the Gauteng Rental Housing Tribunal (RHT). The Tribunal or RHT is an independent body appointed by the MEC to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants, and it is a free service. 

The RHT has the following powers:

  • It can summon and or subpoena a landowner or tenant to a hearing or mediation;

  • It may conduct physical/in-person or virtual hearings;

  • It can issue interdicts that require a tenant or landowner to comply with any part of the Rental Housing Act;

  • Its ruling has the same power as a judgment of the Magistrates Court;

  • It can impose a fine and/or judgment;

  • It can make determinations of fair rentals; 

  • It can issue spoliation orders, among other things.

Termination of municipal services is one of the issues the RHT can deal with besides lack of maintenance and repairs.

These are the obligations of a landlord, which the RHT can enforce:

  • Maintain the premises in a reasonable state of cleanliness;

  • Maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair;

  • Comply with all requirements in respect of buildings, health, and safety under any legislation so far as they apply to the premises;

  • If the premises do not have a reticulated water supply, provide adequate means for the collection and storage of water;

  • Compensate the tenant for any reasonable expenses incurred by the tenant in repairing the premises where: 

    • the state of disrepair has not been caused as a result of a breach of the lease agreement by the tenant and is likely to cause injury to persons or property or is otherwise serious and urgent; 

    • the tenant has given the landowner notice of the state of disrepair or made a reasonable attempt to do so. 

Any tenant or landowner or group of tenants or landowners or interest group(s) may lodge a complaint about an unfair practice with the Tribunal.

An unfair practice under the Rental Housing Act of 1999 is:

(a)   any act or omission by a landlord or tenant in contravention of this Act; or

(b)  a practice prescribed as a practice unreasonably prejudicing the rights or interests of a tenant or landlord. 

The Gauteng Unfair Practice Regulations, 2001, prescribes these unfair practices. Regulation 14(1)(d) prohibits "oppressive or unreasonable conduct" on the part of a landlord. Essentially, any oppressive or unreasonable conduct would be sufficient to trigger an unfair practice inquiry by the Tribunal. It is for this reason that the prescribed statement form directs a complainant to provide all relevant information. This assists the Tribunal to determine whether the complaint relates to an unfair practice and hence whether it must consider the complaint. It promotes the speedy and cost-effective resolution of the dispute by making it simple for a layperson to approach the Tribunal with a complaint.

Private Property in a 2018 article says you will need the following documents to lodge a complaint with the RHT:

  • Your ID/permit/passport;

  • The relevant lease agreement;

  • Proof of applicable payments;

  • Proof of the physical address of both parties;

  • Contact telephone numbers.

To lodge a complaint, you fill in a prescribed form that you will be given at the RHT offices or the Department of Human Settlements Offices or the Rental Housing Information Office under the local municipality.  

The Johannesburg Housing Company says that once you lay a complaint with the Tribunal, they will appoint a mediator who will perform preliminary investigations to determine whether an unfair practice has taken place. After the investigation, all parties involved will receive a letter from the Tribunal. Depending on the findings, the Tribunal may decide that a solution can be resolved through mediation.

If no agreement is reached, there will be a formal tribunal hearing up for all parties to attend and participate in. For the hearing, you can attend with a representative of your choosing. 

The RHT can also refer the matter to arbitration, in which case a binding ruling is handed down to both parties. This ruling will be enforced by the magistrate’s court in terms of the Magistrate’s Court Act.

The JHC says that if you’re unhappy with the final findings, you can ask for a review, which takes place before the High Court within your Tribunal’s area of jurisdiction.

It should not take longer than three months for a complaint to be resolved by an RHT from the time a complaint is lodged.

These are the contact details for the Gauteng Rental Housing Tribunal:

Address: Ikusasa House, 4th Floor, 129 Fox Street, Johannesburg

Tel: 011 630 5035


You could also ask the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) for advice. SERI is a public interest law centre providing dedicated socio-economic rights assistance to individuals, communities and social movements.

Address: 6th floor Aspern House, 54 De Korte Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, 2001

Phone: +27 11 356 5860


Wishing you the best,

Answered on April 20, 2023, 12:05 p.m.

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