Rental Housing Amendment Bill: Housing Department briefing

NCOP Public Services

10 October 2007
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Meeting report

PUBLIC SERVICES SELECT COMMITTEE

PUBLIC SERVICES SELECT COMMITTEE
10 October 2007
RENTAL HOUSING AMENDMENT BILL: HOUSING DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Chairperson: Mr R Tau (ANC,North West)

Documents handed out:
Rental Housing Amendment Bill Presentation

Relevant documents:
Rental Housing Amendment Bill [B 30B-2007]

Audio recording of meeting

SUMMARY
The Committee was briefed by the Department of Housing on the Rental Housing Amendment Bill, which had already been presented to the National Assembly and needed to be presented to the NCOP as a section 76 Bill. The Bill sought to amplify and amend various sections of the Rental Housing Act, and the Department took the Committee through and explained these amendments. Some Members expressed concern that although the Bill was a straightforward Bill; they would have preferred a more detailed presentation as they had little  information of substance to report back or present to their constituencies.

MINUTES
Rental Housing Amendment Bill: Department of Housing (NDOH) briefing
Mr Khwezi Ngwenya, Legal Services, NDOH, gave a brief overview and outline of the Rental Housing Amendment Bill, noting that the purpose of the Bill was to address implementation problems which had been encountered since the promulgation of the Rental Housing Act, 1999 (the Act). There had been no uniformity among the provinces with regard to regulations and it was now felt that issues around regulations should be dealt with nationally. He stated that the Department of Housing was working closely with the Department of Justice and Rental Tribunals to see where the Act was not being implemented properly in the provinces.

Mr Ngwenya gave a rundown of the clauses of the Bill, stating how they sought to amend the principal Act, as follows:

Section 1 of the Act was to be amended by widening the ambit of “unfair practice" in the Act.  has been widened.

Section 4
was being amended in respect of references to a bona fide visitor. This term had raised numerous debates as to who was a bona fide visitor. It was decided that in an attempt to determine a bona fide visitor the Tribunals should have the discretion to decide on the matter.

Section 5 was being amended, and Mr Ngwenya pointed out that this section dealt with the mandatory presentation of receipts by the landlord, and contract fees. Presentation of such receipts had proved to be problematic when tenants paid at different places (the bank, supermarkets and the like). Hence the amendment indicated that only at the request of the Tribunal must these receipts be presented.

Another problematic issue was that of contract fees and who should bear the cost of paying them. Prior to the amendment only the tenant was expected to cover the costs, which prejudiced many tenants. The Bill now provided that both parties had jointly to pay the contract fees.

Section 9 of the Act provided for the Tribunal composition. The new amendment now provided that despite the absence of both the Chair and Deputy of the Tribunal, the meeting could proceed provided that there was a quorum. The appointment of the Deputy Chairperson of the tribunal was also dealt with. With regard to the filling of a vacancy in the office of a member of the Tribunal, the Bill now extended the original period of one month to  three months.

Section 13 of the Act in regard to the jurisdiction of tribunals was clarified. Tribunals could not  deal with eviction issues as they were not a court of law (in accordance with section 26 of the Constitution), but they could deal with issues around spoliation and interdicts. This had been done to keep in line with the Grootboom and Ndhlovu judgments in the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal. Tribunals were now being permitted also to make rulings with regard to compliance with the provisions of the Act.

Section 15 was to be amended to empower the Minister, rather than the MEC, to make regulation. There had been a problem with lack of conformity and consistency within the different provinces, and it was intended that a more uniform approach be adopted.

Section 16 had made provision for unlawful lock outs of tenants or shut offs of utilities to the rental housing property; these were now declared an offence, and tenants were protected from them, in line once again with the  Ndhlovu judgment..

Mr Ngwenya noted that the Bill was published for public comment on 22 December. Various comments had been presented by government and private bodies.

Discussion
Mr A Watson (DA) (Mpumalanga) was concerned that Members were not provided with copies of the principal Act and it was therefore difficult for them  to compare and to raise meaning contributions. However, the amendments seemed to be largely self-explanatory.

Mr M Mzizi (IFP) (Gauteng) said that the focus on a bona fide visitor reminded him of legislation in the apartheid era, and he asked why there was a need for the landlord to be informed as to who was a visitor.  He also asked whether the issue of a bona fide visitor applied to both public and private housing.

Mr Ngwenya noted that the Tribunal had discretion to determine who was a bona fide visitor in both private and public rentals. The reason for this was that most tenants were not permitted to sublet because it added wear and tear to the property.

Mr Mzizi asked what the contract fees entailed.

Mr Ngwenya noted that the contract fees referred to the lease contract. He noted that in future these would be borne by both parties. In the past landlords were charging tenants between R500 and R600 for a lease that may have been drafted many years ago by an attorney, for which a fee was charged at the time, but they were either simply copying it from year to year, but raising the same charge, or using a standard lease agreement that one could buy from a stationer, and the tenants were being unfairly prejudiced.  This issue also tied in with the presentation of receipts.

Mr Mzizi enquired why the Tribunals could not evict tenants.

Mr Ngwenya explained that section 26 of the Constitution stated that tribunals did not have the power to issue an eviction notice; this could only be done by a court.

Mr Mzizi noted that his major concern was how the Amendments affected the ordinary people.

Mr Ngwenya noted that the landlord had to reinstate the property as it was, or put the tenant back on to the property as before, in a case where there was an interdict or spoliation involved. The Tribunal would have to deal with these matters. In addition, backyard tenants who had a lease would benefit the most from the amendments as they no longer would have to go through the costly process of going to court to get utilities  like water and electricity reinstalled.

Rev P Moatshe (ANC) (North-West) expressed his disappointment that the presentation was too short, and he struggled with understanding the Act and Bill. His major concern was that he had to present it to his constituency and he could not do this adequately due to the poor presentation.

Mr Ngwenya stated that the reason why his presentation was short and to the point was that the Memorandum on the Objects of the Rental Housing Amendment Bill, 2007, attached at the back of the Amendment Bill, in fact explained the reasons for and the purpose of the Bill in detail. He had considered that a repetition of this was unnecessary.

The Chairperson stated that he would have preferred a more detailed explanation, since this was is a section 76 Bill, and requested that future presentations should explain matters more thoroughly. He noted that the negotiating mandate would be discussed on 7 November, and the final mandates given on 14 November.

The meeting was adjourned.

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