David Dewar – Director and Lutfiyya Waja – Candidate Attorney
Rental scams are unfortunately on the rise in South Africa, forcing victims to face cataclysmic consequences. A rental scam is when a scammer will pose as a landlord and attempt to obtain money from a potential tenant for a rental property that they are not the lawful owner of. The scammer will often place an advertisement for a property with pictures included and a seemingly legitimate rental agreement. The property itself may be real or fictitious. The potential tenant may make payments to the scammer in respect of a deposit or of rental, all of which monies are not due and owing to the scammer but rather to the lawful owner of the property, who is generally unaware of the lease in question.
In a recent incident, the Hawks arrested three accused who allegedly made R40-million over the last five years by renting out government buildings in Mthatha which lawfully belonged to the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC). The three accused, who are charged with fraud and theft, and have appeared in the Mthatha Commercial Crimes Court this week, were all members of the Public Assets Community-Based Tenants and Owners Association (PACTOA).
In December 2017, PACTOA evicted tenants who had been paying rent to the ECDC. Eleven properties in total (including the Windsor Hotel) were taken over by the accused and the new tenants proceeded to pay the accused and not ECDC. Although the accused remain in custody, and ECDC have strategically engaged with PACTOA to address the issue, eviction proceedings may still need to be launched in order for the ECDC to fully regain control of its properties.
Some local authorities have established departments to deal with the issue of building hijacking.
In addition to the above, Thomson Wilks has encountered cases where a tenant leases a property from the landlord, then within a month or two they will say that they are going away and that a friend of relative is going to stay in the property to look after it. The tenant has in fact sublet (illegally) to the person who is now in occupation. No more money is paid to the landlord and the tenant cannot be found. The occupier is often also a victim to the scam.
Whilst there is unfortunately no fool proof way to completely avoid a rental scam, there are some steps that potential tenants can take to avoid falling victim to a scam:
• Work through a registered property practitioner, both the agent and the agency’s status can be established on the Property Practitioners Regulatory Authority website -www.ppra.org.za.
• Always meet your potential landlord before transferring any money
• Always inspect the property in person
• Beware of over-eager landlords who don’t follow proper vetting processes like credit checks
• Be wary of excessive deposit amounts
• Ensure that the landlord signs the lease agreement as well as you
• Always have a legal representative review the lease agreement if it is not through a recognised, registered agent
• Ensure that your deposit is paid into a properly accredited trust account whether it be an attorney or an estate agent.
• If you are unsure, ask for proof that the landlord does in fact own the property.
• Use the internet to do some research on the parties involved in the transaction
Contact email@example.com for further assistance if you find yourself in need of legal representation. We have solid experience in the property sector and with the intricacies of evictions.
Do not take the law into your own hands as that is illegal and can result in a court order being granted against you and the tenant/occupier will be given occupation of the premises until a proper court process if followed.
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