May I change my tenant’s locks for non-payment of rent?

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“I’ve been leasing an apartment to some students. Unfortunately, they don’t pay their rent and offer excuse after excuse. I’m sick and tired and just want them out. May I change the locks when they are out?”


Terms and provisions of the lease agreement

Leasing property can hold financial benefit. But of course there is always the issue of a bad tenant who doesn’t pay.

Just as a landlord has certain obligations towards a tenant, so a tenant has a duty to pay his rent on time.

This is governed by the terms and provisions of the lease agreement.

As tempting as it may be to resort to taking the law into your own hands it is not the answer and will only end up in making the situation worse.

Taking the law into your own hands, regardless of the tenant being in arrears, is unlawful.

In South Africa residential lease agreements are subject to the PIE Act.

Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE Act)

If you change the locks without the tenant’s consent, it would be an unlawful deprivation of the tenant’s possession which is prohibited in terms of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (“PIE Act”) and your tenant can obtain an urgent court order against you with costs, even if the tenant is in arrears with his or her monthly rental, requiring you to reinstate the tenant in his use and enjoyment of the rental property.

Your tenant could also possibly refer a complaint to the Rental Housing Tribunal.

Lawful Eviction Process

But what should a landlord do then? When a tenant fails to pay rent, he or she is in breach of the lease agreement.

The landlord must notify the tenant of the breach and request the tenant to rectify the breach.

If the tenant, despite the landlord’s demand, fails to rectify the breach in the lease agreement, the landlord may choose to cancel the lease agreement. The landlord may start eviction proceedings in terms of the PIE Act if the tenant refuses to leave the property.

What the above shows is that there are legal steps that can (and should) be followed where you have a bad tenant.

What you should not do is take the law into your own hands.



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