Lease clauses and the law

Clauses written into a lease are legally binding once the lease is signed. It’s therefore important to know what you are signing up for when you agree to clauses in a rental agreement.

So, you want granny to come and live with you. You have the space, and she doesn’t mind sharing a room with one of the kids, so it’s a win-win situation for everyone – except for the small fact that your lease agreement specifically states how many people can live in the home and by taking granny in, you’ve exceeded that quota.

Landlords can basically write anything into a lease as long as this doesn’t infringe on the tenant’s human rights and as long as it doesn’t induce the tenant to break the law.

It’s important to know that just because you have signed a lease, this doesn’t necessarily make all the clauses legally binding. Let’s say that one of the clauses is that the landlord can break your legs if you’re ever late with a rental payment. Just because you have signed the document agreeing to adhere to that (and all the other clauses) the landlord can’t bring the baseball bat around and get to work on your kneecaps. The laws of the land prohibit this sort of behaviour and as such a landlord can’t physically attack a tenant regardless of what is said in the lease.document-428331_1920

However, and this is a big however, a landlord can determine who has the right to live and work on the property.

The media was all abuzz recently when a tenant in Cape Town became incredibly irate because her landlord insisted on being provided with a copy of a work permit for a person who was working as a carer on the property.

What on earth does it have to do with the landlord who is employed by the tenant, you may ask. Well, if truth be told, the landlord was simply trying to uphold the law of the land by determining that the worker who was living on the premises was legally allowed to be in the country. It may have been an unusual case and most tenants will tell you that they have never been asked to produce such documentation, but just because it’s unusual, doesn’t make it wrong.

Alan Levy, Alan Levy Attorneys says tenants have to follow the law and if they step out of line there can – and often will – be consequences.

Lease agreements are not standard documents and, as such, every clause should be read over carefully.

He says that although the Cape Town case is unusual, this doesn’t mean that the tenant can overlook a clause completely and try to pull the wool over the landlord’s eyes.

“Landlords may choose to overlook certain things that are in breach of the lease agreement, but this doesn’t mean that each and every tenant is going to get away with transgressions. One of the more common issues is when the lease stipulates how many animals may be kept on the premises. The landlord may have very good reasons for inserting that clause and will have every right to terminate the lease if the tenant decides to flout it.”

He adds that landlords also have the right to insert a clause that regulates noise levels. Although the tenant may argue that municipal laws make it legally permissible to be noisy until a certain hour, the landlord is well within his rights to insist that loud music, shouting etc. only be allowed to carry on up to a certain time.

Of course, the best way to deal with a landlord who is going to dictate how you may or may not live is by not signing something that the tenant knows is going to become problematic at some stage.

In other words, read the lease very carefully and discuss aspects that may be cause for concern. If the landlord isn’t willing to budge, find another property with another landlord who won’t restrict your lifestyle.