Written for Property Poser

This week, the Property Poser experts help a tenant who is experiencing massive problems with dampness in the property he rents.

The reader tells us that the foundations of the house have subsided to such an extent that cracks have appeared in various places.

Of even greater concern is the fact that the shower floor in the bathroom has also subsided, causing water to seep into his adjoining spare room.

The reader says this issue was pointed out to both the agent and owner at the beginning of the lease period but, six months later, no real steps have been taken to alleviate the problems.

The attempts that have been made have all been of a superficial nature and have not addressed the problem.

The reader likes both the property and the area in which it is situated and is therefore not keen to move.

Having said that, he feels that he is paying rental for a three-bedroom dwelling, but in reality only has the use and enjoyment of two of the rooms since the third has become unusable. He wants to know what his options are.

Rian du Toit from DTS Attorneys in Port Elizabeth says the Rental Housing Act provides some guidance in this regard.

“It requires the parties to a lease to inspect the property prior to occupation in order to highlight potential issues and identify aspects for repair. It appears that this was not done, although it is quite possible that the problem would not have been evident at that stage.”

According to Du Toit, the next step would be to consult the lease agreement.

“It’s a contract, like any other, between tenant and landlord. This means that we have to consider the terms in order to determine what our reader’s rights and obligations may be.”

The provisions of the Consumer Protection Act will also have bearing on the reader’s rights and the landlord’s obligations, says Du Toit. “The aim of this act is to protect consumers’ rights when entering into a contractual relationship with a supplier.”

When a lease agreement is concluded on a particular property, Du Toit says the landlord is required to meet certain obligations in return for the rental.

Charlotte Vermaak from Chas Everitt in PE says the landlord’s obligations include making the use and enjoyment of the property available to the tenant.

“He or she must also place and maintain it in the condition agreed upon or at least in a condition reasonably fit for the purpose for which the property is let.”

Vermaak says the reader should therefore put the landlord on terms to fix the damp problem, failing which he may have the option of cancelling the lease agreement.

“As our reader points out, cancelling the lease is not his first choice. It may be an option to negotiate a reduced rental amount as a result of the issues experienced, however, it is unlikely that the landlord would do so voluntarily.”

The lease may make provision for dispute resolution or the reduction of rental due to the decreased enjoyment of the property, says Vermaak.

“The latter would possibly be to an amount reasonable in the circumstances and determined by a third party, often an independent estate agent.”

Vermaak says the reader would also have the option of approaching the Rental Housing Tribunal for assistance in reaching an equitable solution.

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