The Rental Housing Tribunal exists to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. And it’s free!
“The Rental Housing Tribunal is a statutory body established in terms of Section 7 of the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999 (as amended),” explains Pieter Janse van Rensburg of Just Property. “It is an independent body and its members are appointed by the MEC of each province, in terms of the Rental Housing Act 50/1999, to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants regarding residential properties.”
An alternative to a costly court case, these tribunals have the power to summon a landlord or tenant or any other relevant party for tribunal hearing. A ruling ordering a tenant or landlord to comply with any part of the Rental Housing Act and unfair practices regulations can be issued. According to Legalwise, “if a landlord or tenant fails to comply with a ruling of the Tribunal, s/he may be convicted of an offence and sentenced to pay a fine, be imprisoned, or both. A ruling of the tribunal is deemed to be an order of the magistrate’s court and may be taken on review to the High Court.”
According to the Department of Human Settlements, a rental housing tribunal has the authority to “deal with disputes, complaints or problems between tenants and landlords in the rental housing dwellings:
• Non-payment of rentals. • Failure to refund deposit. • Invasion of tenant’s privacy (including family members and visitors. • Unlawful seizure of tenant’s goods. • Discrimination by landlord against prospective tenants. • The changing of locks. • Lack of maintenance and repairs. • Illegal evictions. • Illegal lockout or illegal disconnection of services. • Damage to Property. • Demolition and Conversion. • Forced entry. • House rules. • Intimidation. • Issuing of receipts. • Municipal services. • Nuisance. • Overcrowding and health matters.”
In terms of section 13(13) of the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999 (the “Act”), a ruling of the Tribunal is deemed to be an order of a magistrate’s court in terms of the Magistrate’s Court Act, 1994.
The Rental Housing Tribunal is a free service; the government bears the costs because it is a statutory duty provision.
“Once a complaint is lodged, any preliminary investigation necessary will be conducted to determine whether unfair practice has taken place. The complaint may take up to 21 days to register and process, after which all relevant parties will receive a letter via post with a reference number,” Janse van Rensburg notes.
If the tribunal decides that there is a relevant dispute, it may be resolved through mediation. “While voluntary, this is often the best course of action as the relationship between the landlord and tenant must usually continue afterwards,” says Janse van Rensburg. “Mediation is conducted by qualified officials with many years of relevant experience, who have undergone training both internally and externally.”
If the dispute cannot be resolved through mediation or there is no prospect of a successful mediation, the matter will be resolved through a formal hearing.
For purposes of the tribunal process, legal representation is not necessary, but it is permitted. A party can also be represented by any duly authorised person other than a legal practitioner.
“The hearings are usually attended by three to five tribunal members, the complainant or his/her representative(s) and the respondent or his/her representative(s),” Janse van Rensburg explains. “We encourage our landlords and tenants to have their agent present as they will be party to the history of the rental arrangements and the dispute. If necessary, either party can also ask other witnesses and experts to attend.”
Once the oath has been administered, the parties will be given an opportunity to present their cases and provide their evidence. The tribunal members will consider everything and issue a ruling.
If you do not agree with the findings of the tribunal the tenant can ask for a review before the High Court.
“It must be noted that the tribunals cannot order the eviction of a tenant,” Janse van Rensburg adds. “In such cases, the landlord will have to go to court. If the court finds unfair practices have occurred, it might refer the case back to the relevant tribunal.”
For more information regarding your rights as a landlord or a tenant, and contact details for Rental Housing Tribunals in your province, visit the website of the Department of Human Settlements: http://www.dhs.gov.za/sites/default/files/u16/Rental%20Housing%20Tribunal_web_1.pdf