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An African solution needed for tenants and landlords

By Dr Sayed Iqbal Mohamed Time of article published Mar 12, 2020

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South Africa’s Constitution transformed our society for the better and is considered one of the best in the world. It affirms democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

The government has made many positive changes and continues to provide housing. It must be complimented for “demolishing” numerous unjust laws and introducing progressive policies. Much more could have been accomplished without the insatiable greed and corruption of some politicians, officials and their partners in the private sector.

The new Constitution led to remarkable democratic reforms in housing. Tenant-landlord relationships changed for the better with the introduction of the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999 and of the provincial rental housing tribunals that are empowered by the act to resolve disputes.

It was dialogue and consultation between the government and grassroots structures that brought about changes in legislation to regulate the relationship between tenant and landlord. These changes, however, need further investigation and feedback from the tribunals and representatives of tenants and landlords to amend certain flaws and loopholes.

Landlords, for example, need speedy resolution and protection from unscrupulous tenants who refuse to pay rentals, resort to illegal means to ensure uninterrupted electricity and water supply, and vandalise the very properties that provide them shelter.

Subsidised rentals for poor tenants, single parents and those with disabilities are long overdue. Subsidies would provide some measure of security of tenure, but come with challenges.

Section 3 of the Rental Housing Act states that (1) the minister may introduce a rental subsidy housing programme, as a national housing programme, as contemplated in section 3(4)(g) of the Housing Act, 1997 (Act No. 107 of 1997), or other assistance measures, to stimulate the supply of rental housing property for low-­income persons. (2) Parliament may annually appropriate to the South African Housing Fund an amount to finance such a programme.

Most municipalities have failed to provide adequate shelter for the inner city residents who are exploited by slum lords and then victimised by the municipalities as they shut down these accommodations. Enormous amounts of ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ money are spent on drafting and showcasing policies, yet environmental issues continue to plague poor neighbourhoods.

The road to freedom was long and painful, and, having buried apartheid, the road ahead should not be longer and agonising, especially for the poor.

More tenants have moved into the inner cities because of urbanisation. Over the past few years, market forces have shown an increase in property sales, and the change in ownership has led to rental escalations. The downturn in the economy with high unemployment levels affects many tenants who struggle to survive. Landlords use the economic situation to exploit tenants by imposing higher rentals.

There is also unease due to rising displacement of tenants for student accommodation and the eThekwini municipality’s recent move to “clean up” the city of bad buildings. Investors (local and overseas) appear to be behind the process of “cleaning up” the city with no intention of replacing the housing stock being demolished.

Where ownership is concerned, sectional titles and share block schemes are proving to be “malfunctioning” in the post-apartheid era. These were introduced as alternate forms of ownership, based mainly on the European system and under strict racist laws in South Africa. Handing over free ownership of government public rental housing to the poor, while laudable, creates predicaments due to the sectional titles model.

Rents legislation passed globally after World War I as a measure to protect tenants has undergone drastic change in the West, but little reform in most of Africa. There is a need to study and understand the experiences, challenges and solutions on this continent.

Too often we look at so-called first-world countries that have found excellent solutions to problems that are universal, but also indigenous and idiosyncratic to their countries.

What is needed is a strong, African tenants’ union to share information across the continent and for non-governmental and community-based organisations, tenants’ and landlords’ representatives to work in partnership with their respective governments to bring about a just and fair dispensation for both tenants and landlords.

Mohamed is the chairperson of the Organisation of Civic Rights and deputy chairperson of the KZN Rental Housing Tribunal. He writes in his personal capacity. For advice, contact Pretty Gumede or Loshni Naidoo at 0313046451 / [email protected] or [email protected]


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