Tenants, you have a right to see the electrical compliance certificate
There is no requirement in law that a landlord has to provide a tenant with an electrical compliance certificate every two years, but it is advisable for a tenant to request a certificate of compliance (CoC) from a landlord when occupying a new premises. This is according to Alan Rosen of Rosen Electrical, which services north and northeast Johannesburg.
This is endorsed by MC van der Berg Attorneys which points out that it remains the responsibility of the owner to ensure the safety of the electrical installation, unless there is an agreement between the landlord and tenant that the tenant will take over this responsibility.
“Nowhere in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, is it stipulated that the owner/lessor must provide a tenant with an updated certificate every two years, as the stipulation containing the two-year period only deals with the instance where property is transferred,” says Tiaan van der Berg of MC van der Berg Attorneys. “Thus we are of the opinion that there is no duty on an owner/lessor to provide a tenant with an electrical compliance certificate every two years.”
Tenants take charge
But tenants do have a right to and responsibility for the electrical system in the house as well as the electrical compliance certificate.
“The user of the electrical installation is the tenant and the regulations specifically refer to the lessor’s obligations,” says van der Berg. “There is thus an obligation on both parties to ensure that a valid COC has been issued in respect of the electrical installation of the leased property.”
The tenant does, however, carry a certain degree of responsibility for the appliances installed in the home and the health of the electrical system.
“There are sometimes incidences, whether through lack of attention or the tenant not being available when a rental agent wants to do an inspection, that some electrical faults could become evident in a let home, and the tenant does not notify the agent or the landlord that this has happened,” says Gail Cawood, rentals manager at Knight Frank Residential SA. “There could be various reasons for this, which cannot always be explained, but landlords should perhaps inspect these every few months or instruct their agents to do so, purely for safety reasons.”
Cawood gives insight into a recent case (not one of Knight Frank’s clients) where an oven was reported by an ingoing tenant as faulty, and actually revealed that the old stove and oven needed replacement and not just repair, as they posed a fire hazard. Initially, the owner wanted the element repaired in the oven as it was malfunctioning, but, because the oven was a very old model (it was over 20 years old and the owner admitted had never been replaced since he had bought the unit), the electrician called out could not find the necessary spare parts and suggested replacement instead.
When the old appliance was removed it was found that the cupboards and countertop on either side of the stove had been charred and burned, to the point of crumbling. Had the stove and oven perhaps been left on for prolonged periods of time, this could have started a fire, which would easily have spread to the rest of the kitchen. There were other faults reported, such as faulty light switches and plug points – and these were also in urgent need of repair as they were “shorting” and could have become a fire hazard or could have shocked someone.
Tenants must allow their rental agent or landlord to inspect the property from time to time (with reasonable notice as laid out in their lease agreement) as this is not done only to ensure that no damage is done to the property, but to check that everything is in working order within the unit. Tenants must also report things that malfunction as soon as possible as these can become hazards if not remedied.
Landlords, however, have a responsibility to ensure their properties are safe and don’t pose any risks to tenants and their possessions.
“The risk and liability involved with immovable property will always be that of the owner,” says van der Berg. “A tenant cannot take out insurance on a property, whereas a landlord can. Therefore, tenants cannot be held liable unless they were grossly negligent.
“A tenant can, however, insure his/her movables within the property. If the owner is grossly negligent in obtaining a COC and the electrical installation is a fire hazard, the tenant will have a claim for damages against the landlord.”
Electrical Installations Regulations to the Occupation Health and Safety Act states that “any person who contravenes or fails to comply with the provision of regulations shall be guilty of an offence and be liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for maximum of 12 months and, in case of a continuous offence, to an additional fine not exceeding R200 for each day on which the offence continues: Provided that the period of such additional imprisonment shall not exceed 90 days”.
Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, says aside from the fact that the certificate is proof that the electrical installation is safe, the law requires a homeowner to be in possession of a CoC, as do home insurance companies.
He says if a property incurs any damage as a result of an electrical fault, the insurance company will require the homeowner to provide it with a valid electrical certificate. Goslett says failure to produce the document could result in the insurance company repudiating the claim.
The price of a CoC varies depending on what work must be done to make the installation compliant. Normally, Rosen Electrical charges between R750 for a small house or apartment, and R1,400 for a four-bedroom house for an inspection, test and report. If there is no work to be done on the installation, the electrician issues a CoC immediately.
The message is quite simple: tenants should request a copy of the CoC on taking occupation of a home, while landlords need to keep their properties safe and habitable or face consequences greater than a fine.
How does a CoC affect home selling?
What the law states, as per the government notice of March 6, 2009 concerning the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, and Electrical Installation Regulations in particular, is that a user or lessor may not allow a change of ownership if the CoC is older than two years.
The Electrical Contractors Association of South Africa says a CoC is valid for two years from the time it was issued. However, if the owner continues to live in the property after two years, he/she does not have to have a new CoC issued. A new one is only required if the property in question is sold after two years.
Rosen explains that any additional electrical work must be attested to in an addendum to an existing CoC.