There is a lot of confusion as to who may be liable for the cost of repairs within a residential rental property. In many cases, landlords unfairly hold the tenants liable for the cost of repairs when it is in fact the landlord’s responsibility as the property owner.  


The Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999 as amended on 5 November 2014 by the Rental Housing Amendment Act 35 of 2014,  as well as the Unfair Practice Regulations,assists with clear guidelines.

Section 4B (11) sets out the requirements with regards to the condition of the property. It states that a landlord has an obligation to provide the tenant with a property that is “habitable”.


This means that the property must be


·        safe and suitable for living;

·        have adequate space;

·        protected from the elements and other threats to health, physical safety of the tenant as well as the tenant’s household and visitors; and

·        a structurally sound building.


Non-compliance with the requirement of habitability is a criminal offence under section 16 (a) & (b). Which states that a person who fails to fulfill his or her obligations as landlord in terms of section 4B (11)respectively, will be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment not exceeding two years or to both.


A tenant may only be held liable for damages resulting from


·        negligence

·        excessive use of an item or

·        blatant abuse thereof


Examples of common maintenance disputes:

Blocked drains – Often drains are blocked due to roots growing in gardens, blocked gullies and drain pipes in which case the landlord would be responsible for the cost of repairs.

Bath and shower drains can be blocked by the hair of tenants and toilet drains may block when a tenant flushes away foreign objects.  This would be an example of something that a tenant may be held liable for.

Light fittings and bulbs – Faulty switches, light fittings and electrical faults would be the responsibility of the landlord whereas the responsibility of changing light bulbs lies with the tenant.

Mould, damp and leaks – Mildew formation in a bathroom is usually a result of steam build-up and condensation on walls and ceilings.  The tenant could be responsible if the forming of mildew is a direct result of poor ventilation. Ventilation however,might not always prevent mildew from forming on old paint or properties at the coast.  These details need to be considered in each case.  Rising damp and leaks relate specifically to the structure and maintenance of a property and therefore the landlord is liable.


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