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Landlords stay on the straight and narrow

Landlords cannot simply disconnect a tenant's electricity.

In a tragic event on the premises of a prominent complex in Sunninghill in Johannesburg in late July, a landlord was electrocuted when taking the law into her own hands.

In an effort to disconnect her non-paying tenant’s electricity, the landlord ripped out a breaker in the electricity box belonging to the whole complex. One can only imagine the extreme frustration she was experiencing to have been driven to such drastic action. As a result, the landlord suffered severe upper-body trauma, was rushed to hospital and admitted to ICU. The entire complex was left without electricity until Eskom had the resources to send out a team to service the electricity box and repair the damage.

As frustrating as it may be, it is never a good idea to try and take the law into your own hands. In this case, the outcome was extreme and unfortunate, but regardless, the reality is that disconnecting electricity, changing locks and cutting off a tenant’s water supply are all considered a criminal offence in terms of the Rental Housing Act. TPN strongly encourages performing full credit profiling on potential tenants – there is a shortage of rental accommodation and landlords are in a desirable position of being able to select only quality tenants.

And if legal intervention is necessary, there has been a recent Western Cape High Court judgement where a landlord was given the right to disconnect a commercial tenant’s electricity after applying for a court order. Although the judgement bodes well for landlords to take action against defaulting tenants in the future, it is still against the law for a landlord to disconnect the electricity without first obtaining a court order authorising them to do so.

* Michelle Dickens is the managing director of TPN Credit Bureau

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