Can I switch off tenant's electricity?

29 Jan 2013

A Property24 reader asks:

I'm a landlord and my tenants haven't paid the electricity bill for the last two months, and as a result I ordered the Body Corporate to switch off their lights.

I need to ascertain whether my actions were within the legal parameters.  I'm a landlord and my tenants haven't paid the electricity bill for the last two months, and as a result I ordered the Body Corporate to switch off their lights.

I gave them less than 24 hours notice to inform them that I was going to switch off their lights and on top of that they paid three days after receiving the letter. But I took my time to order the Body Corporate to switch on the lights again as I wanted to punish them for their actions and teach them a lesson.

Please advise if my actions are within legal limits and should they decide to take action then what would I need?

Marlon Shevelew, specialist rental and eviction attorney at Cape-based legal firm Marlon Shevelew and Associates replies:

In short, any action to deprive a tenant of beneficial occupation, even if rentals and utilities are owing, is illegal.

Besides the fact that the Body Corporate cannot take any action against a tenant, the owner certainly cannot resort to self-help.

The law is quite clear and allows for a tenant to be placed back into the position he/she was in before the unlawful action was taken by the property owner, by way of a spoliation application. In instances such as these a court will not consider what amounts are owing but rather whether the tenants were in peaceful and undisturbed occupation of the premises.

If so, they must be put back, at your cost. If you have not been brought before the court yet then you may have escaped this unlawful action, but if the tenant suffered any damages you may soon be on the receiving end of a summons for damages the tenant has suffered.

Readers may submit questions to Property24’s Guest Expert panel and/or comment below. We may not be able to answer all questions received, but all will be considered. 

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