Landlords can be held responsible for the actions of their tenants

By Newsletter

A recent report in the STBB | Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes newsletter highlights the importance of keeping tabs on what is happening at your property if a tenant is in place:

The background of the case involved the erection of an advertising billboard on a commercial property in Johannesburg. The property’s owner (a company) had signed a lease with a company allowing it to erect advertising signs on the outside wall of the property. According to the lease agreement, any such structures could only be erected after municipal approval had been obtained.

However, the billboard company erected a large advertising board on the wall of the two-storey building without obtaining municipal approval or submitting building plans. The structure in question stretched across almost the entire width of the building and protruded over the pavement. The municipality deemed the structure unsafe and illegal and served a notice to desist on the owner (the company), which argued that it wasn’t the owner of the structure. The municipality then brought an urgent action for an interim interdict prohibiting the owner from erecting or utilising the advertising structure.

The owner of the building defended the matter noting, among other things, that the wrong party had been sued because it was not the owner of the billboard and therefore was under no obligation to comply with the by-laws or the provisions of the National Building Regulations Act. It also argued that it hadn’t erected the signboard and in terms of the by-law only the owner of an advertising sign could be held responsible if the required permissions from the municipality were not sought before the sign was erected. handcuffs-2102488_640

The court disagreed and cited common law noting that when an activity or structure located on a property causes a nuisance or danger to others, it is the responsibility of the owner to halt the nuisance or remove the danger, irrespective of who on the property may have been responsible. Accordingly, the civil law of the municipality was enforceable against the owner of the property.

In other words, the owner of a property is ultimately responsible for the actions of his tenant.

So, essentially this means that property owners cannot ignore the situation if they are aware that their tenants are breaking the law. Anyone who suspects their tenants are violating the law should report the matter to the police. And it is important for the landlord to take steps to try to protect himself from finding himself in this situation and unintentionally renting his property to someone who is likely to break the law. These steps include:

  1. Screening prospective tenants – check that they do not have a criminal record and talk to their previous landlords, if possible, to find out if they were reliable or if their previous landlord had any issues with them as tenants.
  2. Ensure that your lease agreement includes a clause stating that no illegal activities may be conducted on the property and allowing the landlord to cancel the lease and evict the tenants if they break this clause.
  3. Regularly inspect the property – while landlords usually exercise this right to ensure their property is not falling into a state of disrepair, use the opportunity to be on the lookout for possible illicit activities.
  4. Approach the people neighbouring your property to ask if they have been aware of anything that might be considered ‘suspicious behaviour’ like numerous once-off visitors, sounds of violent behaviour or pungent odours, such as marijuana.

At the end of the day, as the owner of the property you can and will be held accountable by law, and so it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that the property is not being used for any criminal enterprises.

In a continuing effort to provide superior service to our landlords and tenants, we invite you to contact IGrow Rentals to discuss how we can assist you in screening and placing quality tenants in your rental property, and manage your property on your behalf. Please contact Karen Grobler on 021 979 2501 or email