With rents rising at ± 7,5% per annum in all the major centres of South Africa, landlords might just possibly be in a strong position to crack down on a problem that is now becoming widespread and more disruptive – the illegal overcrowding of rented premises. This was said recently by Tony Clarke, Managing Director of the Rawson Property Group.
“When the number of occupants in a rented property increases way above the levels allowed by the local municipality,” said Clarke, “the property becomes damaged and deteriorates. Furthermore, the atmosphere in the area or the complex tends to become ‘unpleasant’ and in some cases even hostile – particularly when the unit is part of a large multi-unit apartment complex accommodating a great many people.”
Among the worst offenders, said Clarke, can be students and low paid immigrants, many of whom are in South Africa illegally.
“In areas like Hillbrow in Johannesburg, Berea in Durban and Observatory in Cape Town, rents, although much improved over the last two years, have still been relatively low. If the tenant who signs the lease can then double up on the number of occupants in the unit, he himself can very often make a reasonable profit while providing ‘affordable’ rents to those who desperately need somewhere to stay.”
Although much has been written and said on this subject, added Clarke, very few areas, even those with city improvement district initiatives in place, have been able to eradicate it.
“The problem tends to end up with the landlord, who will be held responsible for allowing the overcrowding to have taken place – even if it has been done without his notice – and by not putting a stop to it. It has to be admitted, however, that in certain tough precincts, the landlords can find themselves between a rock and a hard place because the extra infiltration of tenants often occurs without their knowing about it and the perpetrators, sometimes acting as mini landlords themselves, can resort to intimidation and threats of violence. This is especially the case where such people are involved in other illegal activities.”
Asked what he would suggest is the solution to this, Clarke said that in his experience it is usually necessary to get a court action against the illegal occupants and then to call in the police to handle the situation.