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Why following advice by Facebook’s pseudo lawyers can be dangerous

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Jack owns an apartment in Jo’burg that he is renting out. Sean signed a 24 month lease in a brand new development. At the time of taking occupation of Jack’s apartment Sean signed the lease agreement as well as the ingoing inspection. Now Sean’s lease is coming to an end and he is moving. His landlord informed him during the outgoing inspection that the door leading to the garage has been damaged and he would need to keep some of the security deposit back to pay for these repairs.

Sean is very upset; he believes that the door’s damage is more from poor workmanship than anything else. While blowing off steam he decides to post on his local community group, and adds the soccer club’s page for good measure. He asks a group of neighbours, strangers and soccer buddies what he should do as he feels it is really unfair of his landlord to expect him to pay for something he didn’t damage. A few people comment, advising him to simply refuse to sign the outgoing inspection as this will clearly show he doesn’t agree with the findings and the landlord will not be able to deduct from the security deposit for the repairs.

This is a hypothetical scenario inspired by a HomeTimes Q&A – a landlord asked what options he has as a vacating tenant is refusing to sign the outgoing inspection to avoid paying for damages this tenant did cause. The expert advised the landlord that he is entitled to deduct from the security deposit what is required to repair the damages as reported during the outgoing inspection, with or without the tenant present at the inspection. This is due to the fact that the tenant signed an ingoing inspection, when none of these defaults were recorded.


Read the #AskALawyer Q&A here


By implication, in our hypothetical scenario Sean’s refusal to sign the outgoing inspection form, on advice from a group of people with no knowledge of the law, is tantamount to him forfeiting his right to question or oppose the findings from the outgoing inspection. In fact, Sean doesn’t even need to be present for the landlord to do the inspection and decide to deduct from his security deposit to repair damages Sean does not feel he is responsible for.

Social media takes interaction, communication and the gathering of information to a whole new level. You can ask just about any question and get an answer from someone in the know, from some far-flung part of the globe, often within minutes. There’s always a keyboard warrior who happens to be an expert, regardless of the subject and unfortunately this can have dire consequences, particularly for those looking for legal advice.

There are a number of legal sites on social media platforms like Facebook which offer legal advice and while not slating the good they do, there is a downside.  These platforms are an open forum and anyone who is a member, regardless of their qualifications (or lack thereof) can respond to a legal question. It’s often easy to spot those who have no legal background, mainly because they offer empathy instead of solid legal advice. However, these people aren’t always easy to spot and as a result there’s always a chance the poster will be steered in the wrong direction.


Another sticky situation that could easily go haywire if dodgy advice is followed


These social media platforms act as a magnet for those who can’t afford the services of an attorney and some of the stories that appear are heart-breaking. It’s often clear the poster urgently needs legal assistance and although the qualified people on the site usually recommended that the poster contact a professional, this doesn’t stop unqualified people from climbing on to the bandwagon and offering a plethora of inaccurate legal advice.

Erring tenants are a popular topic and again, you can spot the genuine legal eagles from a mile away. They are the ones who recommend getting eviction proceedings going as soon as possible, starting with consulting an attorney. But, according to the non-legal types, there is absolutely no reason to go the legal route. All you have to do is:

  • Put padlocks on the doors
  • Cut off the lights and water
  • Remove the front door
  • Move another person into the premises (a tramp is usually recommended)
  • Send in the heavies to break a couple of kneecaps

Of course none of the above suggestions are legal and any landlord who attempts to take the law into their own hands in this manner could end up facing legal action themselves.

What is an area of concern is that there are those on social media platforms who will automatically assume that they are receiving genuine legal advice simply because it’s on a ‘legal’ page or group.

Just as it’s difficult to come up with a correct medical diagnosis by typing in a couple of symptoms, it’s virtually impossible to receive solid legal advice on an online forum and this is mainly due to the fact that a lawyer needs to be in possession of all the facts before he can properly advise. Sure, legal experts on the sites can advise what steps should be taken, but that’s basically it. Nine times out of ten, if the problem is serious enough, the poster is still going to have to consult with an attorney.

Free legal advice is available to certain people under certain circumstances. Go to Law Society of South Africa to learn more.

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propjourno@icloud.com

Lea Jacobs is a freelance property writer whose articles appear in a number of publications, both print and online. While it may not be entirely accurate to say she is ‘passionate’ about property, she has a deep interest in the industry and keeps a close eye on the latest news and trends, both locally and internationally. Not afraid to tackle hard-core issues in her articles, she also enjoys taking a lighter look at life from a property perspective.

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