Answer to a question from a reader

What can I do about the unfair treatment by my landlord?

The short answer

The Rental Housing Tribunal hears and resolves disputes between landlords and tenants.

The whole question

I have been renting an RDP house for 10 years now. The owner pops up any time he likes and demands money. If I fail to give him money, he threatens to throw us out. I'm currently unemployed – my spouse is the only one working – and we have two kids. When we moved into the house, it had been vandalised and was in bad condition. I took the time to repair it while still paying the full rent at the end of every month. On multiple occasions, the owner has come with people, saying he wants to sell the house, and demands money. I want to buy the house from him as we don't have electricity at the moment because it has been blocked. After the owner receives the rent and the money for water and electricity every month, he just drinks it all up and doesn't make any payments. I need guidance on what to do.

The long answer

For a start, the landlord cannot evict you without a court order, and, because you are up to date with your rent payments, a court is most unlikely to grant an eviction order. 

Secondly, the landlord is legally responsible for paying the municipal bills for water and electricity which you pay him for, and he is not allowed to cut off your electricity without a court order. He is also not allowed to demand money over and above the agreed rent and threaten to evict you if you refuse.

The MEC for Housing in each province appoints a Rental Housing Tribunal in terms of the Rental Housing Act. This is an independent body which hears complaints about unfair practices and resolves disputes between landlord and tenants. This service is free of charge. The tribunal has the power to issue a written order to a landlord or tenant to appear at a mediation or hearing. 

Whatever agreement is reached through mediation, or whatever ruling is laid down by the tribunal through a hearing or arbitration, is the same as a magistrate’s court ruling. If the ruling is not carried out by either the landlord or the tenant, they can be fined or sent to jail. 

The tribunal also has the power to urgently restore occupation or services to tenants who have been illegally evicted or their electricity illegally cut off. This is in terms of an “ex parte spoliation order” which means that the tribunal can act without giving the landlord the right to be heard, though the landlord can ask for an urgent hearing on 24 hours’ notice.

The first step is to fill out a Rental Housing Tribunal complaint form. You can contact the tribunal at, or at 0860 106 166, or you can get this form at the help desk of the provincial housing offices (The Department of Human Settlements). In Cape Town, this is at 27 Wale Street in Cape Town. There are two forms: the complaint form (or “unfair practices” form) and the annexures form.

You should include as much detail as you can when filling out the complaint form: write down a history of your landlord’s unfair practices and include names of people involved, dates of discussions or incidents, what was said and where these discussions or incidents took place. 

Keep a record of what happens so you can refer to it, if necessary, at the tribunal.

For the annexures form you need to include a certified copy of your ID, your address and the landlord’s address, your contact details and the landlord’s, the lease agreement if there is one, or the terms of the verbal agreement if there isn’t one and proof of payment where possible. You then lodge the complaint with the tribunal – in person at the provincial housing offices, or by email or post. 

Once the complaint has been lodged, and until the date of the hearing or mediation, the landlord may not evict you; you must continue to pay rent, and the landlord must continue to maintain and repair the property.

It should take about two weeks for the tribunal to get back to you. They will investigate the complaint and decide if it is an unfair practice. They will try to resolve it by mediation, but if agreement can’t be reached, they will conduct a hearing or arbitration where they will make a ruling. They will send the date of the mediation to both you and your landlord.

You can also contact the following organisations for free legal advice:

  • Legal Resources Centre (021 481 3000)

  • Cape Town Legal Aid (021 426 4126)

  • Cape Law Society (021 443 6700)

Answered on Dec. 15, 2020, noon

See more questions and answers

Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.