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The public is invited to respond to the re-drafted Rental Housing Bill that was introduced on October 28, 2011, in the National Assembly.
The portfolio committee on human settlements (“the committee”) met twice to consider submissions, and after much debate, had the Bill redrafted.
Written submissions must reach the committee secretary by 4pm next Thursday, April 5, 2012, with public hearings in parliament scheduled for April 24-25.
A public notice issued by Beauty Nomhle Dambuza, MP and chairwoman of the Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements states, among other things:
“The Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements had embarked on the process of redrafting the Rental Housing Amendment Bill. During the process of public hearings and oversight visits, the committee had witnessed irregularities in the rental sector.
“The committee is of the opinion that the Act should address the challenges the country faces in respect of the rental sector. Therefore, the committee invites all interested persons and stakeholders to submit written comments on the redrafted Rental Housing Amendment Bill, which must reach the committee by 4pm on Thursday, April 5, 2012.”
This time around the Bill proposes more radical changes and with focus on tenants’ experiencing economic hardships. Below are some of the changes envisaged and the possible reasons for these changes and intended outcomes:
* The introduction of rights and obligations in the heading. Instead of relations between tenants and landlords, it will read “rights and obligations of tenants and landlords”. It is not only what parties expect as their rights, but also what they need to give (obligations) to make their relationship successful. Rights therefore exist together with obligations.
* Membership will change to seven. A provincial tribunal will function as two committees, each with three members. This will allow tribunals to conduct two hearings, even simultaneously, reduce case backlogs, register a greater number of complaints and reach out to more areas within a province.
* Members do not have adequate knowledge, skills and training to perform the tribunal’s dispute resolution tasks. The proposed changes will make it the national government’s duty to fund programmes to train members and staff of the tribunals. This is essential for tribunals to perform more efficiently, provided the programmes are developed with great care. Several “courses” in the past were more cut-and-paste of legal issues and the reproduction of the Act.
* The common-law position of leases will change. Where the common law allowed parties the choice to enter into a lease orally or in writing, all leases must be in writing. A simple pro-forma lease agreement in 11 official languages will be part of the proposed changes. It must also contain “minimum requirements for a lease agreement which may be used as a guideline by the tenants and landlords”.
* “Landlords must maintain the structure of and provision of utilities to the dwelling.” This changes the right landlords had through contract law to pass over their common-law obligations.
* Each province must have a Rental Housing Tribunal and all local municipalities are required to establish rental housing information offices. In terms of section 14 (3), the following would be the functions of the information offices:
(a) educate, provide information and advise tenants and landlords on their rights and obligations in relation to dwellings in its area of jurisdiction;
(b) provide advice to disputing parties on reaching solutions to problems relating to dwellings;
(c) refer parties to the tribunal;
(d) comply with any request of the tribunal in terms of section 13; and
(e) keep records of enquiries received by the office and to submit reports in relation thereto to the tribunal on a quarterly basis.
* As for poor tenants, the proposed addition includes intervention by national government, making it compulsory for the minister to:
(a) monitor and assess the impact of the application of this Act on poor and vulnerable tenants; and
(b) take such action as he or she deems necessary to alleviate hardships that may be suffered by such tenants.
(6) For purposes of subsection (5), the minister may define criteria based on age, income, or other form or degree of vulnerability that apply to such tenants or group of tenants, and amend or augment the policy framework on rental housing referred to in subsection (3) in such a manner as he or she sees fit.”
Written submissions for the Rental Housing Amendment Bill (B21-2011) or enquiries should be made to Koliswa Pasiya at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 021 403 3725, 083 709 8495 or fax 086 666 0984.
* Dr Sayed Iqbal Mohamed is the chairman, Organisation of Civic Rights.
For tenants’ rights advice, contact Pretty Gumede at 031 304 6451.