No regulations of any kind have been implemented to authorise tenants to refrain from paying rent.

The global pandemic brought about by the COVID-19 virus has thrust South Africa into one of the most unfamiliar and uncertain times in our history, the likes of which never before experienced. Government has, in response to the virus, declared a national state of disaster and implemented a nationwide ‘lockdown’ to combat the growing threat of the COVID-19 virus.

Together with the lockdown, various regulations and rules have been implemented rapidly in order to facilitate government’s bold social distancing strategy and are subject to change just as fast. It is unsurprising that it is almost impossible to keep up to date with all the developments. This uncertainty has further been exacerbated by the mass publication of either misinterpreted or outright fabricated information, or misinformation, distributed rapidly by means of technology and more so social media, often by those who would seek to self-benefit in these trying times.

Amongst this misinformation, we have noticed a number of collectives on social media who are advising tenants to refrain from paying their rental to their landlords, either claiming that laws have been implemented allowing tenants to lawfully withhold rental or, more sinisterly, simply calling upon tenants to refuse as ‘they cannot evict all of us’. In times of such uncertainty, it is hard to know what advice can be trusted. This article is an attempt to enlighten tenants as to the current rules and regulations in relation to the payment of rent.

The bottom line is that absolutely NO regulations of any kind have been implemented authorising a tenant to refrain from paying, or to withhold their obligations to pay, rent to their landlord. This is the case in respect of residential, retail, industrial and commercial properties. That being said, it must be kept in mind that each individual lease agreement must be reviewed in light of its own particular provisions, and while no overriding exemption to the payment of rental has been implemented, particular lease agreements (or existing legislation governing these) may allow for this in light of the present circumstances. In his speech on 9 April 2020 President Ramaphosa called upon businesses to uphold their rental obligations and not rely upon force majeure in order to avoid paying rent, and has asked all to ensure that we keep the economy functioning by performing in terms of our agreements.

Be cautious when taking advice from people who are not qualified to do so and who, when push comes to shove, will not be held accountable for the repercussions of actions taken during this time. Remember that, while evictions cannot occur during the lockdown period, this in itself is not a justification for the refusal to pay rental and will not be a valid legal defence against eviction or the collection of rent after lockdown has ended.

As is always the case in tackling uncertain times, communication is key. Certain landlords are providing relief for their tenants if they can afford to do so. This is a specific agreement between the landlord and their tenant. If you are experiencing loss of income please ensure that you receive an appropriate letter from your employer, communicate your problems with your landlord and see whether an appropriate agreement can be made. Tenant Profile Network (“TPN”) has made this task simpler and easier by providing a free to use Rental Recovery Pack, available to download at their website (www.tpn.co.za) which will promote some relief and assist you and your landlord to change your lease agreement on a temporary basis in light of the COVID-19 virus.

Do not simply refuse to pay your landlord. Remember that they are experiencing the same pressure as you are. We will make it through this as a nation but only by working together.

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