My tenant hasn’t paid his rent – now what?

The constitution guarantees every person living in South Africa the right to a roof over their head – even if they have not paid the rent. In other words, you cannot evict someone for failing to pay the rent. You can, however, cancel the lease agreement if the tenant is in breach, eg. by not paying the rent on time.*

If you are renting out your property, you have an 85 percent chance of having a tenant who pays his rent on time… and a 15 percent chance of a tenant who either pays late… or not at all. Do you know what to do if your tenant doesn’t pay his rent?

The slippery slope

At RentMaster we are often contacted by property owners who have tried to self-manage the rental of their property and have run into problems with a tenant falling further and further behind with their rent. In most instances landlords tell us that the nightmare situation “crept up” on them and by the time they realised they had a problem, it was a serious problem.

Let’s take a typical example:

Anne’s story

Anne finds a tenant, Joe, to rent her apartment. She draws up a lease agreement that she and Joe sign.

Joe moves in on 1 January and pays his rent of R5000 on time for the first three months.

On the first of April, Joe phones Anne and tells her that his salary will be paid a week late as his company is experiencing cash-flow problems and he will only be able to pay her on the 8th.

This sounds reasonable and Anne agrees to this arrangement.

On the 8th Joe pays only R2500. Anne only realises this on the 10th and phones Joe on the 11th. Joe does not answer his phone and Anne leaves a message. Joe does not return her call.

She goes to the apartment on the 15th and finds Joe at home. He tells her that he’s been sick and he’s really sorry about the inconvenience. He promises to pay the rest of the outstanding rent by the 20th.

Anne is relieved because she does not enjoy confrontations but she depends on the rental income to make ends meet. The 20th comes and goes. On the 25th, Anne finds that Joe has only paid R1250.

By the beginning of June, Joe is two months behind on his rent and is avoiding any contact. Anne contacts RentMaster. It takes another two months to evict Joe because the correct notifications need to be sent in order to be able to properly cancel the lease agreement.

Let’s retell Anne’s story with a happier ending

Our story starts the same way, with Joe moving in, paying on time for the first three months and only paying half the rent on the 8th of April.

Instead of phoning, Anne gives Joe a letter in his hand. The letter contains the following important information:

  • Joe is in breach of the lease agreement because he has not paid all his rent
  • He has 7 days to rectify the matter by paying the rent in full (she spells this out)
  • If he does not pay within 7 days, the agreement will be cancelled in 20 working days from the date of the notice, as prescribed by Consumer Protection Legislation, and he will then have to vacate the premises.

Anne has brought a friend with her to witness the fact that she has given Joe the letter. If Joe refuses to sign, her friend can testify that he did indeed receive it. (She could also have sent the letter by registered mail, in which case she needs to retain the receipt and track the letter to the point when it was delivered to Joe’s post office.)

Now Joe knows that she means business and that if he does not pay in full, he could be evicted as early as mid May. In all probability Joe will ensure that paying his rent in full and on time is his first priority and never give Anne reason to worry again.

If, however, he continues with his current payment trend, Anne has already taken the first step in the legal process of eviction.

By giving Joe this letter instead of phoning, the communication is clear and unambiguous. Telephonic and face-to-face conversations are open to interpretation and people usually remember what they want to.

Of course, if you would prefer not to be hassled with the technical, legal and often combative field of tenant relations, you can simply appoint RentMaster to do it for you. For 4.56% of the rental amount we will guarantee that your rent is in your bank account on the first of the month and we will manage all legal communication with your tenant, should he fail to pay. We also cover the legal costs of evicting a tenant, should this be necessary.

*  In a previous article  we looked at all aspects of a good lease agreement. If your tenant has stopped paying his rent, you’ll be very glad you went to the trouble of drawing up a solid agreement.