Written for Property Poser

Our Property Poser panel has received a query from a tenant who is struggling with a blocked drain in her kitchen.

The reader signed a one-year lease on a flat, but, within two weeks of moving in, the sink was blocked. The matter was reported to the caretaker, who said the owner had to attend to a similar problem the previous week.

She was given a plunger, but had no success and a plumber was eventually called out.

Days later the drain was blocked again and she reported it once more. She was reluctantly told that she should get someone to fix it.

The reader wants to know if she would be within her rights to have the problem sorted out on her expense and then deduct the amount from her rent.

Verity Bigara from Rawson Properties Port Elizabeth says when a landlord and tenant enter into a lease agreement, the property is let for the full use and enjoyment of the tenant.

“Being a capital investment, it is important for the landlord that the property be maintained in a habitable condition. The same goes for the tenant, to ensure his or her continued, full use and enjoyment of the property.”

Bigara says the lease agreement will normally determine what rights and obligations rest on the tenant insofar as maintenance work and a contribution towards the running costs of the property is concerned.

“Most often, the lease will specify that the tenant is liable for the cost of unblocking drains, replacing light bulbs, broken windows, missing keys and so on.” The obligation to effect major repairs like leaking roofs and structural problems is usually the landlord’s, according to Bigara.

Tania Schaëfer from Schaëfer Attorneys & Conveyancers in PE says if the lease does not address the matter of repairs, the provisions of the Rental Housing Act Nr 50 of 1999 will determine the rights and obligations of the parties.

She says the act provides for an inspection by the landlord and tenant at the start of the lease to record defects to the property. “The landlord is entitled to receive it back in a good condition, taking into account the faults that were present and excluding normal wear and tear.”

Schaëfer says it therefore follows that the tenant will be liable for repairs during the subsistence of the lease.

From the information given by the reader, says Schaëfer, it would appear that the reader is renting a flat in a multi-storied building in which all the flats belong to one landlord.

“If the blocked drain is due to a blockage in her flat, she will be liable for the cost of the plumber, unless the lease stipulates otherwise. If others are experiencing similar problems, as it would appear, the problem may be structural.”

If so, the tenants may demand that the landlord attend to the problem to ensure that they can once again use their properties in the manner agreed to in the lease agreements, says Schaëfer.

Bigara says if the landlord does not deal with the matter promptly, the reader may proceed to have the drain unblocked so that she can use the sink again.

“The reader must however not deduct the cost from the rent. The receipt must be handed to the landlord for a refund.”

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