“It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle.”

That line crops up in many e-mails sent to Consumer Talk by disgruntled consumers.

Sometimes it’s a small amount of money at stake – not being given 5 cents or 10 change, for example – and sometimes it’s a lot.

Every now and then someone proves that it’s really not about the money by vowing that should they get a refund as a result of Consumer Talk’s intervention, they’ll donate it, or at least a big chunk of it, to charity. That’s just what Andrea Kope of Cape Town did.

She moved out of the Seapoint flat she’d rented from Spiros Mavraganis of Realty Atlas last November, and contacted me four months later when she had still not been refunded a cent of her deposit, which by her calculation should be more than R10 000. “He keeps promising that he will refund me, but it doesn’t happen,” she said.

I took up the case and Mavraganis responded on April 2 with this undertaking: “Payment will be effected by this Friday (April 4).

“I have had a few financial challenges lately but will honour my commitment to Andrea.”

That didn’t happen.

It was around that time that Kope undertook to donate to charity half of any refund she got.

Early last month, when I got back to Mavraganis to point out that he hadn’t made good on his promise to issue that deposit refund, he responded: “We have decided to settle by this Thursday.”

He claimed that Kope’s failure to pay her December rental had put the company under pressure “as we couldn’t meet our financial obligations”.

Kope admits to only paying half of November’s rental, anticipating a struggle to get her deposit refunded, but insists that the company did not lose out financially.

“I found him a replacement tenant as per our lease agreement and that person moved in the day after I vacated, with the landlord’s consent and an increase in rental!

“I left the flat in perfect condition, with no repairs required.”

Kope finally got her deposit refund of about R10 000 on May 9, almost six months later than it was due.

True to her word, she donated R2 500 to the Sunflower Foundation, and R2 500 to the Organ Donor Foundation, in Mavraganis’s name.

* The Rental Housing Act is very specific about rental deposit refunds.

Joint inspections are crucial.

Both the tenant and the landlord or agent must attend an entry and exit inspection.

In other words, before the tenant moves in, both parties go from room to room noting any defects, and when the tenant later moves out, they both repeat the process.

If the tenant hasn’t caused any damage, both sign their agreement on this, and then the tenant’s deposit – usually a month's rent – must be refunded to them within seven days.

If a wall needs to be repainted because they knocked nails into it, or they burnt or stained the carpet – something beyond normal wear and tear – those things need to be noted as well, in order for the cost of remedying the problems to be deducted from their deposit.

And the deductions can’t be random – they have to be backed up with receipts proving what was spent on restoring the dwelling to good condition.

And here’s something few tenants know – the act says that if the landlord fails to inspect a dwelling in the presence of the departing tenant, this is taken as an acknowledgement by them – that’s the landlord – that the dwelling is in a good state and they must then refund the full deposit, plus interest, within a week.