Written for YourProperty

The Property Poser panel has been inundated with queries from former tenants whose rental deposits have been unlawfully withheld by their landlords.

This week, a reader writes that she vacated a rental property just over two months ago and was told by her landlord that she would have to wait 30 days before her deposit was repaid.

She was also informed that she would receive only the original amount paid, without any accrued interest.

The reader says she is still waiting for her deposit to be repaid and would like to know whether the landlord’s actions are legal and what the window period for the repayment should be.

According to Schalk van der Merwe from Rawson Properties in Somerset West, Cape Town, the Rental Housing Act sets out the general obligation on the landlord regarding the deposit.

“The Act states that the landlord will accept the deposit from the tenant and hold it in an interest-bearing account for the benefit of the tenant, to be refunded with interest at the termination of the lease.”

Van der Merwe says the main purpose of the deposit is to provide the landlord with some comfort that, should the tenant damage the rental property, he will have access to funds to make good the damage.

“The Act requires the landlord and tenant to jointly inspect the premises at the termination of the lease to determine the extent of any damage.”

If there is any damage to the property, the balance of the deposit is to be refunded within 14 days of completion of the repairs and the tenant is entitled to see the receipts setting out the costs, says Van der Merwe.

The reader does not mention any inspection or repairs, therefore it seems likely that there were no such problems, says Grant Hill of Miller Bosman Le Roux Attorneys in Somerset West.

“In such an instance, the deposit plus interest must be repaid within seven days of the lease having expired.”

Thus, the tenant should not be forced to wait 30 days for the return of her deposit, says Hill.

“As far as the interest is concerned, the Act also details the landlord’s obligations.”

Hill says it states that the rate of interest “may not be less than the rate applicable to a savings account with that financial institution”.

Furthermore, says Hill, the tenant may request that the landlord provide him or her with written proof of interest accrued on such a deposit during the lease period, and the landlord must provide it.

“It would thus seem as though our reader has been provided with information that suits the landlord and is substantially prejudicial to the reader as the tenant.”

Hill says she should refer the matter to her provincial Rental Housing Tribunal, as established under the Act, for immediate assistance.

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