The Rental Housing Act came into operation in August 2000. It came about as a result of the Government's commitment to giving effect to the right to housing which we find in section 26 of the South African Constitution: that everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing.
Some of the features of the Act are outlined below:
When a landlord is advertising a place to rent, negotiating a lease with someone and during the lifetime of a lease, the landlord may not unfairly discriminate against the tenant or potential tenant or the tenant's family or visitors. In other words, a landlord may not refuse to lease a flat to a tenant on the basis that the tenant is, for example, disabled or gay or pregnant. Other prohibited grounds of , discrimination include race, sex, marital status, age, religion and language. While a tenant is leasing a property the tenant has the right to privacy, and if the landlord wants to inspect the property during the lease he or she must give the tenant a reasonable amount of warning. The tenant also has the right not to have the property searched, not to have his or her possessions taken away (unless the landlord has obtained a court order first) and for his or her communications (for example telephone calls and post) private. The tenant also has the right to insist that the lease be put into writing by the landlord.
The Act gives the landlord the right to prompt and regular payment of rental. If the tenant breaches that right by not paying on time, then the landlord can either go to court to get a court order against the tenant or can get a ruling from the Rental Housing Tribunal. (The Rental Housing Tribunal is a body created by the Act which gives landlords a way of recovering unpaid rentals which is far cheaper than going to court.) The landlord is entitled to get the property back at the end of the lease in a good condition and can claim compensation from the tenant if the tenant or a member of his or her household or visitors have caused damage to the property.
Tenants and landlords and other interested parties may lay complaints with the Rental Housing Tribunal if they belieye that an unfair practice is being committed. The Tribunal has the right to make rulings aimed at stopping unfair practices such as exploitative rentals (where the tenant thinks that he or she is paying an unreasonably high rental for the property), overcrowding, unacceptable living conditions and lack of maintenance of property (where the landlord or the tenant is not looking after the property properly). Some feel that allowing the Tribunal to make a ruling about how much rental the landlord may charge intrudes on the landlord's freedom to determine the rental for his or her own property, but the aim of this provision is to promote fairness. It is also to prevent landlords from earning money from dilapidated properties which are not fit to be inhabited.
The Act therefore aims at protecting the rights of both tenants and landlords. On the one hand, for example, it protects the tenant against exploitative landlords and aims at improving the conditions of rental housing. On the other hand, the Act also offers protection to the landlords by protecting their capital investment - ie their property.