How the coronavirus lockdown will impact South Africans who rent

All tenants who were due to move at the end of March will now need to remain in place at least until after the nationwide lockdown, which currently ends at midnight on 16 April.

This is the view of Andrew Schaefer, managing director of national property management company Trafalgar, who said that South Africa’s state of disaster regulations prohibit one from moving from one home to another during the lockdown period.

“So unless they are able to arrange this with their new landlord/ rental agent and take occupation of the property before midnight on 26 March, they will not be allowed to move from their current homes,” he said.

“They will also not be required to pay rent to the new landlord until they can take occupation because these circumstances are beyond their control, and the landlord/ agent will not be able to let the property to someone else during lockdown, even if it is empty.”

Schaefer said that landlords/rental agents with tenants currently in place who are supposed to move out by 1 April, should offer a one-month extension on their lease so that they can also remain in place during the lockdown. They will also then be liable for rent for that month.

“Similarly, for those who have been given notice or have given notice to vacate their current home by 1 April, the best option actually would be to talk to the landlord/ rental agent about getting a month’s extension yourself. This will of course make you liable for another month’s rent where you are.”

Taking a broader view, Schaefer says that landlords also need to know what options are open to them if tenants lose their income due to the lockdown or the economic effects of the Covid19 pandemic.

“If they are quality tenants who have previously always paid their rent in full and on time, we would suggest that they be asked to sign a waiver to the effect that their deposit may be used as rent for a certain time instead of it having to be held in trust,” he said.

“It would be best if this agreement were drawn up by a professional rental agent and it should also contain a provision that the deposit is to be re-instated, perhaps in instalments, by a certain date, and that the landlord will be able take legal action if the tenant reneges on this arrangement.”

Alternatively, he says, landlords may decide to give good tenants a ‘payment holiday’ during the lockdown or even for the next couple of months, especially if they have been given a similar indulgence by their bank on their bond instalments.

The banks are currently working on plans to suspend certain loan payments during the lockdown.

“However, they do need to proceed with caution and make sure there is a written agreement in place that provides for them to withdraw the indulgence under certain circumstances, for the unpaid rent to also be re-instated before the end of the lease, and for them to be able to take legal action if the tenant reneges on the special arrangement,” he said.

When it comes to tenants whose had been given notice to move because they were already defaulting on their rent, Schaefer says landlords may now be obliged to let them stay on at least until the end of the lockdown period.

“However, if they again don’t pay rent, it is important that the landlord or rental agent keep reporting this to the credit bureaux and continuing to follow the correct legal procedures so that the eviction process can begin promptly after the State of Disaster is lifted.”

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How the coronavirus lockdown will impact South Africans who rent