Author: Chantel Cronje
Speedy dispute resolution for landlords and tenants
Are you a landlord or tenant? If so, it is vital to understand the role and function of the rental housing tribunal.
In this guide, we will explore the function and workings of the rental housing tribunal (“the tribunal”). Questions addressed include the following:
- Is the tribunal a court?
- Can the tribunal make legally binding orders?
- Can the tribunal order the eviction of a tenant?
- Does the tribunal charge for its services?
What is the rental housing tribunal?
The rental housing tribunal is a body appointed in terms of the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999, to handle disputes between landlords and tenants (of residential property), by way of mediation and arbitration. The main goal of the tribunal is to resolve disputes between the parties without them going to court. In this way, the parties save time, money, and a great deal of aggravation.
In terms of the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999, a decision of the tribunal has the legal effect of a judgement of the magistrate’s court. This is crucial, as it means that the judgements of the tribunal are enforceable like any court judgement. If a party fails to comply with the order, he may be fined or given a prison sentence!
What disputes does the tribunal deal with?
The tribunal has the authority to deal with all “unfair practices” concerning leased premises. Unfair practices include the following:
- Failure to pay rent
- Failure to refund deposits
- Unacceptable living conditions
- Harassment and intimidation
- Failure to maintain the premises
- Unlawful seizure of a tenant’s belongings
- Illegal changing of locks
- Illegal disconnection of electricity or water
The tribunal can rule on most disputes between landlord and tenant, but not all. The tribunal cannot rule on a claim for the ejection of a tenant. Only a court of law can do so.
How does the tribunal resolve disputes?
The first stage of the process is called the mediation stage. An official of the tribunal (named the “mediator”) will attempt to get the parties to settle the dispute. The mediator acts as a sort of referee between the parties. However, he is not empowered to make a ruling. The parties themselves must agree to a proposed settlement. If the parties reach an agreement, it is made an order of the tribunal and has the legal effect of a magistrate’s court judgment.
If the parties are not able to settle their dispute at the mediation stage, their dispute will be referred for arbitration. This is fundamentally different from mediation. In arbitration, each party states its case before the arbitrator. Each party may cross-examine the other and may call witnesses. After hearing all the evidence, the arbitrator gives judgment. The judgment has the legal effect of a magistrate’s court judgment.
The tribunal does not charge fees for its services.
How to lodge a complaint with the tribunal
Complaints must be lodged in person or by mail or email, at the tribunal office closest to the premises in question (note that while a complaint is being considered, a landlord may not evict a tenant and a tenant must continue to pay rent.)
The following documentation is required to lodge a complaint:
- Your ID or passport
- The lease agreement (if there is one)
- Proof of applicable payments
- Proof of the physical address of both parties
- Contact telephone numbers of both parties
Once the forms and documents have been lodged:
- The tribunal opens a file for each complaint
- A letter is sent to all parties stating the nature of the complaint
- The tribunal conducts a preliminary investigation of the complaint
- The tribunal summonses the parties to a mediation session
The process continues with mediation and arbitration, as set out above.
From the time a party lodges a complaint, it should take no more than three months to resolve the dispute. By contrast, a case lodged in the courts can take many months or even years until it is finalised.
How can your legal advisor assist you?
After taking a detailed statement, your advisor will guide you on the best course of action to take.
They will advise as to whether your complaint qualifies as an “unfair practice”. If appropriate, they will refer your matter to the tribunal.
They will assist you in drafting a letter of demand to the landlord/tenant calling upon such party to comply with the lease. This letter alone may be enough to resolve the dispute.
If the tribunal rules in your favour, we will assist you in enforcing the ruling.
Should you want to evict your tenant, we will assist you with a formal letter of demand. We will then guide you through the entire eviction process.
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Article sourced from Legal&Tax.
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