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PROPERTY PRACTITIONERS

Education drive to shine light on the law and consumer protection in the rental housing jungle

Education drive to shine light on the law and consumer protection in the rental housing jungle

Landlords, tenants and agents all play fast and loose, but Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal commissioner André du Plessis is on a mission to help property practitioners do the right thing.

Whether it’s failure to repay deposits, to conduct joint inspections, to provide leases that comply with the law or to do maintenance, relationships between tenants, landlords and estate agents are time and again marked by failure and acrimony.

Other unfair practices are also common, yet all of them could be prevented by better consumer education.

Since joining the Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal in 2017, commissioner André du Plessis has seen and heard it all during hearings. Landlords knocking out walls or removing front doors to drive tenants out. Landlords cutting water and electricity. Landlords charging for fair wear and tear, which tenants should not pay for.

André du Plessis, Rental Housing Tribunal commissioner, is on a drive to educate estate agents, now known as property practitioners. (Photo: Eric Uys)

On the other side, there are tenants absconding without paying. Tenants refusing to pay rent, abusing properties, abusing the legal system and, in too many instances, threatening their landlords or agents.

And then there are estate agents writing one-sided, illegal leases, and having the temerity to charge for the service. Or agents failing to insist on joint inspections, claiming for imagined damage and passing work to contractors who pay them kickbacks.

Usually there are no angels in these matters.

Du Plessis, a qualified estate agent, lawyer and mediator, has repeatedly tried to enlighten the public and estate agents during hearings.

Agents are often in his sights – not because he has a grievance against them but because he believes they can and should do better.

They are now defined as property practitioners, alongside other property professionals, under the new Property Practitioners Act 22 of 2019 (PPA), which came into force on 1 February 2022.

The act, which brought significant changes to the sector, consolidates all participants by introducing the concept of a “property practitioner”, including estate agents, property developers, managers, bond originators and others.

The act also reconstitutes the Estate Agency Affairs Board (hopefully, somehow, to remedy its downright dysfunction) as the Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority, with the aims of transforming the sector and offering greater consumer protection. It repeals the Estate Agency Affairs Act, 1976.

Every property practitioner must now keep separate trust accounts. This means intermediaries such as PayProp will be sidelined, no longer legally allowed to hold tenant and landlord funds.

The act also requires property practitioners to keep accounting records and other documents for five years. Practitioners are  also not entitled to payment unless they hold a Fidelity Fund Certificate.

The PPA obliges practitioners to deliver a disclosure form to a seller or lessor before concluding a mandate, and to a purchaser or tenant before an offer is made.

Du Plessis says there has been little training because the industry’s focus is on closing deals, not on how to manage rental housing. He is on a mission to teach them about the Rental Housing Act in particular, and its Unfair Practices Regulations.

“It’s about skills development because there is such a lack of knowledge out there,” he explains. During workshops, attendees are also taken through the Consumer Protection Act, the Protection of Personal Information Act and landmark court cases.

Du Plessis says: “We look at the records. We look at the companies. We discuss lease agreements and compliance with the law.

“There is a very big need for property practitioners to receive skills development. There’s a lack of understanding. Not that these are unskilled people, but too many are operating under misconceptions of the law.”

Du Plessis adds that contracts from “certain” institutions are widely used even though they clearly violate the Rental Housing Act and Consumer Protection Act. “There are terms in too many contracts that shouldn’t be there, like a two-month notice period for cancellations,” he says.

Agents’ fees are another bugbear: when agents are not even a party to a contract between landlord and tenant, they are not entitled to fees.

Du Plessis says: “Contracting parties shouldn’t blindly trust the drafters of lease agreements. Ask questions and ensure that you don’t bind yourself to fees and costs that are one-sided and on the face of it unfair.” DM168

Disclosure: Georgina Crouth is an alternate member of the Western Cape Rental Housing Tribunal.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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