Landlords, tenants to show ubuntu during lockdown – lawyer

Johannesburg – It is expected that after the lockdown, the courts will demand proof that landlords and tenants
demonstrated ubuntu during the coronavirus crisis, according to a prominent property lawyer.
This means that landlords won’t be able to rely on current common law solely in court when trying to evict or
recoup money from tenants.
All parties will have to demonstrate they did their best to accommodate each other.
Ubuntu is a recognised legal principle in South Africa, and has been used in legal cases to demand humanity,
respect for dignity and morality.
The managing director of property law firm SSLR in Johannesburg, Cilna Steyn expects that the landlords won’t
be able to solely rely on current common law in court, when they try to evict or recoup money from tenants who
cannot afford to pay their rentals because of the coronavirus crisis.
“They will have to demonstrate ubuntu; that they didn’t profit while the tenants lost all of their income due to the
crisis and couldn’t afford to feed their families,” Steyn says.
The same principle will be demanded from tenants who refuse to pay landlords. South Africa’s large commercial
property owners are facing a struggle for survival, as their major mall tenants are not paying rent during the
“The burden of proof will be to demonstrate that all parties did their best to accommodate each other during a time
of extraordinary hardship,” says Steyn.
Already, almost a third of SA’s residential tenants did not pay full rent in April, according to preliminary data
from Tenant Profile Network (TPN).
May is expected to be a bloodbath, when it will reflect the first mass job losses as a result of the coronavirus crisis
and lockdown. According to one estimate, almost a million South Africans could lose their jobs due to the crisis.
Steyn says that a fake news report that Health Minister Zweli Mkhize had barred landlords from collecting rent
money from their tenants has already contributed to an increase in non-payment, while the eviction of homeless
people by municipalities has created uncertainty about whether evictions can proceed.
Government has banned any evictions during the lockdown, as well as sheriff services for evictions. But TPN has
seen a 30% surge in letters of demand against tenants, as landlords continue to demand rent and prepare for
cancellation of leases and possible evictions post-lockdown.
Steyn says landlords are allowed to send these letters of demand. “It is crucial for landlords to do so where
tenants and landlords are unable to find middle ground, and after considering their personal circumstances. Tenants
who were unable to pay rent because of the effects of the coronavirus, and who have landlords who were factually
in a position to assist the tenant financially, but who have failed to do so, will probably be given more time to
vacate given the current crisis,” she adds.
She advises landlords and tenants, who can’t afford to pay full rent, to conclude a separate very specific
agreement to accommodate the period of non-payment. This could include using the deposit in lieu of rent, or
arranging deferment of the rent. Business Insider

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