“Sharon speaking, hello.”
“Hi Sharon, it’s Lebo.”
“Oh, hi Lebo. How are you?”
“I’m fine Sharon; just saw that you have not yet paid your rent?”
“I…uh…I was meaning to call you about that.”
“It’s the 4th of the month. Your rent needs to me in my account by the 1st.”
“I know that. I’m sorry. I am just waiting for one more supplier to pay me. He promised to pay me today. Once the money is in my account, I’ll pay you immediately. I’m sorry about this.”
“Okay, Sharon. But please pay as soon as possible.”
“I will. Enjoy your day.”
“You too. Bye, Sharon.”
“Sharon speaking, hello?”
“Sharon! It’s Lebo again.”
“Oh hi, Lebo.”
“Do you know what date it is?”
“Yes, I’m sorry, Lebo.”
“It’s the 13th and I still have not received your rent!”
“I know. I’m sorry. Things have been tough this month.”
“I accept that, but I am going to have to issue you formal warnings and begin eviction proceedings.”
“Please, Lebo. Don’t do that. My mother was sick and in hospital and I had to pay out of pocket as she doesn’t have medical aid. I’ll pay you today, I promise!”
“Today, Sharon! Otherwise I will evict you.”
“I promise you’ll have your rent today.”
An unprepared landlord faces the greatest possibility of having his eviction order denied – and in many cases, in the court room itself. The reason, however, is simple, says MD of TPN Credit Bureau, Michelle Dickens.
“A landlord’s case may be full of merit but if a verbal negotiation regarding outstanding rental has taken place where the landlord has allowed the tenant to make payment later than the rental due date, the tenant is able to rely on the defence that an informal payment plan was entered into with the landlord,” she says. “As a result, the non-paying tenant is not an illegal occupant and a Judge will not be able to grant an eviction order at that time.”
Deon Botha, CEO of RentMaster, sees this scenario repeat itself time and time again.
“It is a classic, almost predictable scenario; the tenant promises to pay the rent next week but then somehow only manages to pay it the week thereafter,” he says, noting that the landlord who, invariably, is very busy notices that there has been an additional week’s delay in payments the week following that. “This is exactly how months of arrears build up and how you find yourself in a dysfunctional relationship with a tenant. It happens more frequently than you would imagine.”
One of the simplest steps you can take to protect yourself where you have a delinquent tenant on your hands, is to record all agreements in writing.
“In the event that the Rental Housing Amendment Act comes into full force, it will be a requirement that all rental agreements be in writing, so you may as well start now,” says eviction specialist attorney and MD of SSLR Inc, Cilna Steyn. “Besides impending legislative requirements, by signing an Acknowledgment of Debt, you enter into a separate contractual agreement for the amount owing and so ensure that the tenant is not under the mistaken impression that the rental due date has been extended,” she says. “If the tenant is under that impression or pretends to be under the impression that they have been granted an extension, your application for an eviction order will be delayed.”
Had Lebo forced Sharon to sign an acknowledgment of debt right in the beginning, her application for eviction when Sharon still did not pay the rent would more than likely have seen her application being successful.
“We strongly advocate that our clients take proactive steps to ensure that they are in a position of power when it comes to the worst-case scenario,” says Dickens. “Luckily, this involves a very easy step to take as a landlord, and an Acknowledgment of Debt agreement is available directly from the TPN website. Alternatively, you can simply avoid all this by guaranteeing your rent is in the bank on the first of every month through RentMaster.”