Understanding Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Tenant in South Africa

The Consumer Protection Act and Rental Housing Act apply to residential lease agreements. Renting a property in South Africa comes with rights and responsibilities for both tenants and landlords.

Here are ten frequently asked questions/queries regarding residential leasing in South Africa, along with their answers.

1. How long can a lease agreement be?

The duration of a residential lease agreement is agreed upon between the tenant and the landlord but may not exceed 24 months.

2. Does a “cooling off” period apply to a residential lease agreement? 

If a residential lease agreement was concluded because of direct marketing, then the tenant has the right to cancel the agreement within five days of signing the lease agreement. Unfortunately, if a tenant applied to rent a property of their own accord, the cooling-off period will not apply. 

Direct marketing is when you are directly approached by a company to sell their products, rather than you approaching the company because you are interested in the company’s products.

3. Can a landlord make unreasonable demands of the tenant?

The terms of a residential lease agreement must be reasonable, fair and just toward the tenant. Practically, this means that the agreement should be drafted in clear, plain language that is easily understood by the tenant. The terms contained in the agreement should not be unjust or unfair toward any of the parties to the agreement.

4. Can a tenant cancel a residential lease agreement at any time?

A Tenant is entitled to terminate the residential agreement at any time, on the provision of twenty business days’ written notice to the landlord. It must be remembered that if the tenant cancels the lease agreement prior to the expiry date, the landlord will be entitled to impose a reasonable cancellation penalty in addition to charging for the notice period. 

5. Does the landlord have to remind the residential tenant about the expiry date?

The landlord must notify the tenant of the impending expiry of the agreement and of any variation in the terms of the agreement in the case of a renewal. The tenant must be notified no less than 40 but no more than 80 days prior to the expiry date.

6. Is the tenant entitled to the interest on his/her deposit?

The landlord is required to place all residential tenants deposits in an interest-bearing account, which interest will accrue to the tenant. 

7. What may the landlord use the residential tenant’s deposit for?

The landlord may use the deposit at any time from the commencement of the residential lease to pay for maintenance and/or repairs to the leased premises which are the responsibility of the tenant. When the tenant vacates the leased premises, the landlord has 21 days to inspect the property and determine the cost of any repairs or other expenses that need to be deducted from the deposit, for any damage caused by the tenant.

8. Can a landlord enter the residential leased premises whenever they like?

Tenants have the right to privacy.  A landlord may not enter the property without the tenant’s permission unless it is in an emergency. Even in the case of an emergency, the landlord must still give the tenant reasonable notice before entering the property if possible.

9. What does “common property” mean?

These are all the parts of the building that are not the actual leased premises of any tenant which includes but is not limited to passages, stairwells, lifts and leisure areas. This property that is accessible to all the occupants of the building and is to be used in accordance with the set house rules and always with the consideration of all other residents to ensure harmonious living.  

10. Can a landlord list my residential rental agreement on a credit bureau? 

If the tenant has consented to the listing of his/her payment history on a credit bureau, the landlord may do so. The landlord may also list a residential tenant as a bad payer, should the tenant fail to make payment in terms of their obligations set out in the lease agreement. The Landlord may also take legal action to evict the tenant and/or claim the arrears from the tenant. All the costs involved will also be for the tenant’s account. 

In case of disputes or further inquiries, tenants can reach out to relevant authorities such as the Rental Housing Tribunal or credit bureaus like TPN and Transunion for assistance.


Useful Contact Numbers:

Rental Housing Tribunal: 011 630 5035 / 012 358 4344

TPN Credit Bureau: 0861 876 000

Transunion: 0861 482 482


Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a tenant empowers you to navigate rental agreements confidently and ensures a mutually beneficial relationship between tenants and landlords. Stay informed, communicate openly, and seek assistance when needed to make your renting experience a positive one.