Imagine a stranger walking around in your home, peaking into your bedroom, opening your scullery and your bathroom cabinets. Sounds like the opening scene to a television crime series, yet this is something that takes place in the homes of countless South Africans every Sunday.
Stephan Heunis, a working Master’s student who rents a garden flat from friends in Pretoria, left his unit during an open house two weeks ago and fell victim to theft.
“I’m renting from my friends who no longer live in the main house, so they have the added benefit of me looking after the property while they find a buyer,” explains Heunis. “The agents, Brooklyn Properties, organised with the owners to have a second show day so I made sure not to be there, leaving the property in the care of the agents.”
A few hours into the show day, Heunis says he received a phone call from one of the two agents to ask if he had taken his laptop with him. When he confirmed that he had left it at home he was told that it had probably been stolen.
“This is a big, heavy object; not something you can just tuck into your pocket and leave with,” he says. “What makes it even worse is that fact that a big chunk of my Masters’ thesis was saved on the laptop – it’s a very big loss.”
While Heunis admits that he should not have left his laptop in an obvious place where the risk of it being stolen was so high, where does responsibility begin and end?
According to a previous feature HomeTimes covered on the matter, protecting household goods is ultimately the seller’s (and in this case, the tenant’s) responsibility, with the agent’s only responsibility being to walk through the property and ensure that all valuables have in fact been put away. Regardless, the onus does rest on the seller to show that all care was taken to ensure the safety of personal and household goods.
It can be reasonably understood why Heunis feels he has a case: The agents knew the laptop was in a vulnerable position, so why not move it or keep an eye out? Secondly, as mentioned, this is not a small object so why was it so easy for the thief to leave with his laptop? But then again, did Heunis take all reasonable care to ensure the safety of his personal belongings? Probably not.
HomeTimes spoke to Bully Smit, principal agent at Brooklyn Properties about the case. He declined official comment on advice from his lawyer as the case was ongoing, but did say that the agency does instruct all agents to report suspicious characters who may show up at any show days they are managing. Smit added that his lawyer said there were quite a number of cases of theft during open houses pending.
The bottom line is that this real life case study, where Heunis unfortunately lost more than just his laptop, should serve as a reminder to all sellers (and tenants) that the agent can be diligent and aware but cannot be everywhere at all times. During many open houses there is often a busy period where it seems everyone arrives at once, so pack away your valuables in a safe place or lock them in a cupboard.