You’ve just gotten home on a cold winter night and plan to sit snuggly in front of your heater watching a movie, when you realise - no electricity! Used to load shedding, you opt for a nice warm bath. But, alas the water is already cold. Infuriated, you pull out your phone to call your friend to complain about the state of affairs, when you notice the sms from your landlord informing you that he has cut off your electricity because you are in arrears with your electricity bill. But can he just do this?
It is a fundamental principle of our law that no man be allowed to take the law into his own hands. But what remedies are available to a tenant when a landlord has cut off his electricity - and on the other hand, what can a landlord do to limit his risk of a bad tenant just running up his electricity bill?
There is no rule in our law which grants a landlord the authority to cut the electricity supply of his tenant should that tenant be in arrears with his electricity charges. When a lease is concluded rights and obligations are created between the landlord and the tenant, which includes the right of the tenant to the undisturbed use and enjoyment of the leased property, and the obligation on the other hand to pay for rent, water and electricity.
If a landlord does take the law into his own hands and cuts off the electricity supply, the tenant has the right to apply to Court for a spoliation order showing that the tenant’s possession of the leased property was unduly interfered with or disturbed. The court can then order that the tenant be placed in the position he was before the landlord’s action, and the legal cost of the application will be for the landlords account.
But is the landlord without remedy? Does he remain responsible for outstanding rates and taxes on the property and if he can’t take matters into his own hands, how is he supposed to mitigate his losses?
In the recent case of Anva Properties CC v End Street Entertainment Enterprises CC the court allowed the termination of the supply of electricity to the leased property on the basis that the landlord had provided sound reasons justifying such termination and had laid a factual foundation for the relief sought. A landlord can therefore switch off a tenant’s electricity provided that the correct procedure is followed and a court order is obtained authorising the termination of the electricity supply.
If you are a landlord frustrated with a non-paying tenant, or a tenant deprived of his rights of occupation by an overzealous landlord, consult with an attorney or property specialist to find out what steps can be taken to redress the situation. The main thing is not to take the law into own hands, but rather use the mechanisms afforded by law to address the situation.