Your landlord is an idiot – all your friends have heard you say this a million times. Some of your friends know that he hasn’t fixed the motor on the electric gate (something he promised to do in May), or that your bathroom floods every time you use the shower due to leaky pipes – you reported this to him three years ago and didn’t make too much of an issue as you had just moved in.
Some of your more radical friends have even suggested you hardball him: “Withhold your rent until he fixes the problems,” your bestie has advised, “he’ll quickly send the contractors your way.”
The only snag is that if you try this, you will be falling foul of the law.
“The Rental Housing Act is very clear on this,” says Andrew Schaefer, MD of national property management company, Trafalgar. “It requires all tenants to pay their rent on time and in full, and it says that not doing so is a violation of the rental agreement which may entitle the landlord to cancel the lease.”
Still, while the approach of your friend to force your landlord’s hand is wrong, your landlord has responsibilities to you, too.
3 bargains your landlord has to uphold
He has to hand over the premises to you in a reasonable condition and in a good state of repair;
he has to ensure that you have “undisturbed use and enjoyment” of the premises and that the electricity, plumbing, ventilation, doors, windows, air-conditioning, and any appliances on the premises are kept in good working order; and
he has to maintain the property at all times. Some tenants will agree to take on certain responsibilities, such as mowing the lawn or cleaning the pool, but ensure this is in the maintenance clause of the rental agreement.
“And tenants are not helpless to do anything about it if the landlord does not hold up his end of this bargain,” says Schaefer. “For tenants to take action, though, there must be a problem that is not merely inconvenient, but actually interferes with their proper use and enjoyment of the property.
“If there is such an issue, the first thing the tenant needs to do is advise the landlord (directly or through the managing agent) in writing, and give him a reasonable period to rectify the problem or get someone to carry out whatever work is needed. A good rule-of-thumb is to allow 14 working days.”
According to Schaefer, if your landlord does not attend to the problem within this time, as the tenant you have the choice of whether to cancel the lease or attend to the problem yourself. Just please keep all the receipts and cash slips as proof of cost and instruct your landlord that you will be deducting this amount from the rent due. Or, if you end up paying more on the repairs than your actual rent, deduct this from your water or electricity account. If you are on prepaid electricity, though, you will have to inform your landlord that he has to pay back the balance to you or, if you don’t need the money right away, take it out of the following month’s rental.
Schaefer cautions that such decisions should never be made arbitrarily and without proper communication. “Tenants should really try to let the landlord or his agent know what they intend on doing, and hopefully get him to agree before they go ahead, as there is then much less likelihood of a month-end or ongoing dispute about the rent.
“The exception, obviously, is if there is an emergency like a burst geyser or an electrical fault and the tenant needs to take immediate action to prevent further damage to the property – but again, he will need to produce receipts to justify any deduction from the rent or claim for reimbursement from the landlord.”
Schaefer also notes that the nearest Rental Housing Tribunal is the appropriate escalation channel for any dispute that cannot be directly resolved between the tenant and landlord.
Contact the various tribunals here