Understanding Tenant Evictions: A Guide for Landlords

Tenant evictions are often the last resort for landlords, primarily due to the significant expenses, lengthy procedures, and emotional toll it takes on both parties involved. With tenant arrears currently sitting at 17% by Q4 2023, many landlords are left with no choice but to pursue legal action.

The Rental Housing Act of 1999 governs the relationship between landlords and tenants in South Africa, outlining the rights and responsibilities of each party. According to the Act, tenants can only be evicted for valid reasons recognized by the law, which typically constitute a breach of the lease agreement. These reasons may include:

  1. Rental arrears: Persistent late or incomplete rent payments can lead to eviction, although some landlords may provide a grace period for tenants to settle their balances.
  2. Engaging in illegal activities: Tenants involved in criminal activities on the property, such as theft or drug dealing, can be evicted with proper evidence.
  3. Property damage: Tenants are expected to reasonably maintain the property, and negligence or failure to report damages may result in eviction.
  4. Lease agreement expiration: If a tenant remains on the property beyond the lease’s end without proper notice, they become illegal occupants and must vacate.

It’s crucial to note that evictions cannot be based on discriminatory reasons, such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Additionally, retaliatory evictions, such as those in response to a tenant asserting their legal rights or complaining about living conditions, are unlawful under the Act.

Understanding the eviction process is essential for landlords:

  1. Sending a formal letter: When a tenant breaches the lease agreement, landlords should send a formal letter informing them of the breach and providing a specific timeframe, typically around 20 business days, for rectification.
  2. Informing the tenant: If the tenant fails to comply, the landlord must inform them of their intention to seek an eviction order through the court. This involves filing an application at the Magistrate’s Court with jurisdiction over the property.
  3. Delivering a notice of the eviction hearing: A written notice of the eviction hearing must be personally delivered to the unlawful occupier(s) of the property by the sheriff at least 14 days before the court date. The notice should specify the date, time, reasons for eviction, and acknowledge the occupier’s right to present a defence.
  4. Attending the eviction hearing: All parties must attend the eviction hearing in court. If the unlawful occupier(s) fail to appear, the court may proceed with the hearing, potentially resulting in an eviction order.
  5. Issuing a warrant of eviction: If the landlord is successful, the court issues a warrant of eviction to the sheriff, authorizing them to remove the tenant’s possessions from the property.

Throughout the process, landlords must maintain composure and adhere to proper procedures. Illegal measures, such as changing locks or disposing of tenant belongings prematurely, can lead to legal challenges and additional expenses.

In conclusion, thorough understanding of the law and proper eviction procedures is essential for landlords to navigate the eviction process successfully and minimize risks and challenges associated with tenant evictions.