How current water restrictions affect landlords & tenants

Times of scarcity often have the effect turning people against each other and Cape Town’s current water crisis is no exception, with many disputes regarding water usage arising between landlords and tenants. Here are some tips for landlords to help them navigate this difficult time with their tenant.

Level 5 restrictions in a nutshell

Residents may not exceed 87 litres per person per day of municipal water.

It is prohibited to use municipal water for any of the following:

  • Washing cars
  • Hosing down driveways & paving
  • Watering the garden
  • Topping up swimming pools.

Level 5 restrictions have also given the City powers to punish transgressors: residents who exceed the daily allocation will have water restricting devices installed in their water supply. What’s more, they will have to pay the R4500 for their installation. Repeat transgressors may also be liable for a fine of up to R10 000 – and even jail time.

In a recent practical article in the Daily Maverick, Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, broke the daily 87 litres down for residents:

  • A shower for no more than 2 minutes: 20 litres
  • Drinking water: 2 litres
  • Daily hygiene: brushing teeth, washing hands, etc: 4 litres
  • Doing the dishes and laundry: 23 litres
  • Three toilet flushes: 9 x 3 = 27litres
  • Cooking: 4 litres

Total: 80 litres

Empower with knowledge

Take the time to explain the water crisis to your tenant, especially a new tenant who is not from the Western Cape and perhaps not au fait with the severity of the situation. Make sure she is aware of how many litres of water go into daily activities like showering and loo flushing.

Encourage her to save water by placing buckets in the shower to reuse grey water in the toilet and garden. Also let her know about social media pages such as Watershedding Western Cape on Facebook, where she will find a wealth of information and ideas.

Make sure that she also knows what she is not allowed to use municipal water for – see above.

Consider investing in some water-wise improvements

  • Plant indigenous flora and/or succulents in your garden and remove thirsty lawns.
  • Install a water tank to harvest the rainwater from your roof. This water can also be used to top up your pool. You will be amazed at how quickly the tank fills up!
  • Cover the swimming pool with a quality pool cover to limit evaporation.
  • Consider installing a well-point.
  • If your rental property is divided into several units, consider installing a water meter in each unit and not just splitting the water account by the number of units. Most people are only incentivised to do their part if they can see the direct benefit – or the punishment for not doing their bit.

These investments will make your property more attractive to prospective tenants, especially since it is predicted that water scarcity is here to stay in the Western Cape and that we can expect to pay more for water in the future.

If disputes arise…

Level 5 restrictions give the City the teeth to go after water abusers with water restricting devices, fines of up to R10 000 and even jail time. What happens if your tenant uses too much water and the city fines you as the property owner? We asked RentMaster’s legal officer, Sonja Wijnja.

“As with most tenant/landlord disputes, we need to look at the lease agreement. Any lease agreement worth its salt will stipulate that the tenant must observe the laws and municipal by-laws, even if the by-laws have been changed after the tenant has moved in.

“So in the case of water restrictions the tenant is obliged to observe the local by-laws governing the use of water – even if they have changed since signing the lease agreement. The municipality will fine the landlord, but the landlord will be able to pass the fine on to the tenant. The same applies to water restricting devices – if the tenant used too much water, they would be liable for the installation costs of the device.”

But what if the tenant is using too much water because there are leaks in the pipes?

“Maintenance is one of the most often disputed areas of landlord/tenant relations, but one would again start by looking at the lease agreement. In general, the landlord is responsible for the structure of the property, which would usually include the (unless the lease agreement specifically states that the tenant is responsible for this). One would also have to look at whether the pipes are part of the structure and whether the burst was caused (or could have been reasonably prevented) by the tenant.”

If the lease agreement requires the tenant to maintain the garden or pool, can the landlord hold her liable in the case of a drought?

“As far as water usage is concerned, definitely not, as he would be requiring the tenant to transgress the municipal by-laws. The tenant may still be required to perform other garden maintenance tasks such as weeding, mowing the lawn, etc. However, if the landlord has provided adequate water from an alternative source, such as a well-point or rainwater tanks, he would be in his rights.”

In summary, it is always best to prevent potential disputes by having a frank discussion about such issues up front to ensure that all parties are in agreement as to their respective responsibilities, and then to ensure that such agreements are properly recorded and included in or attached to the lease agreement as an annexure. The best attitude for tenants and landlords to adopt is to work together to overcome these trying times.
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