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'Keeping your rent today can mean buying groceries tomorrow': Rent Strike SA

30 April 2020 - 13:00 By Amina Deka Asma
Rent Strike SA is calling on the government to issue a moratorium on rent until the end of the pandemic.
Rent Strike SA is calling on the government to issue a moratorium on rent until the end of the pandemic.
Image: 123RF/andiafaith

Lobby group Rent Strike SA is calling on the government to proclaim a rental moratorium for the duration of the Covid-19 lockdown - and on banks to freeze home loans with no interest added.

However, property experts have cautioned that this could hurt people in the same communities.

Rent Strike SA is also calling on the government to reduce rates and taxes during the lockdown.

“Already in April, 32% of SA renters were unable to pay their full rent. Possibly hundreds of thousands of people are going to be unable to pay rent in May, and many more in June and beyond,” it said.

“Rent Strike as a group starts with the idea that if we collectively organise about that fact, we will all be safer now and in the long term. This is not about just May - May is the beginning.

“Life is not going back to normal any time soon, and the most vulnerable people in our most unequal country will be hit the hardest.

“Not that normal was good for so many of us,” added the group. “If you keep your rent today, you might be able to buy groceries tomorrow where you wouldn’t have [been able to afford to do so].” 

Noting the relief that the government has made available thus far, the group called this “insufficient, unreliable, and maladministered”.

Property specialist Erwin Rode, CEO of Rode & Associates, said this is a complex issue and the only reasonable path to follow is for the landlord and tenant to negotiate.

“From the landlord’s point of view, he must decide whether he wants to retain the tenant. In the case of a shopping centre, the landlord should ask himself the question whether the tenant adds value to the tenant mix and ... is in good standing,” said Rode.

There is also a moral issue that comes into play, he added.

While advocating for tenants, Rent Strike SA also noted that there are landlords who rely solely on rent as an income.

“We are also working on proposing something like unemployment grants for that small proportion of genuinely poor landlords without income,” they told TimesLIVE. 

Shaun Read, the founder and CEO of Read Advisory Services, said there needs to be a better understanding of the scale of the problem.

“It must also be borne in mind that many South Africans in townships and rural areas generate income from renting out rooms and backyard shacks to supplement their own incomes. In some instances, this is their only source of income. This incomes in turn allows them to buy food and pay their bills, which feeds back into the economy,” he said.

He warned that though this effort is intended to protect the most vulnerable, it could end up hurting the same people it aims to protect.

“The reluctance of landlords to simply waive rentals, especially in disadvantaged communities, is therefore to be understood. The domino effect of a government-mandated rental moratorium is therefore likely to have serious implications for individuals dependent on such income,” said Read.

Speaking about the current temporary prohibition on evictions, Read highlighted that this is an initiative to prevent people from being rendered homeless and is not designed to excuse the payment of rental.

As a short-term solution, Read suggested that the government uses the social grant system to put in place a mechanism for rent relief, based on proof of tenancy and the inability to pay.

However, he also notes that this solution would be unsustainable due to the limited resources available to the government.

In the long term he suggested reintroducing rent control legislation as a solution. “In general, rent control statutes aim to provide tenure protection for tenants and restrict rent increases,” he said.