Landlords & tenants: Can a tenant cancel a lease?

When it comes to cancelling a lease early, both landlords and tenants must be aware of their responsibilities. It’s important to note that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) has been put in place to protect consumers and it has changed the way that South Africans do business. The CPA also protects tenants in cases where they want to cancel a lease early.

According to the CPA, if a tenant provides the landlord with 20 business days’ notice, the tenant has every right to cancel the lease early. However, this does not mean that a tenant can just pack his/her bags and leave the property without facing some sort of penalty or financial repercussion. These penalties and financial repercussions can include a fair cancellation fee, cost of advertising as the landlord would have to advertise to find a new tenant to take the place of the old tenant, and any other costs deemed reasonable in the case that a landlord cannot secure a tenant in such a short time period.

It’s important to note, although a landlord can expect the abovementioned payments, a landlord cannot, under any circumstances, withhold a tenant’s deposit or expect the tenant to pay rent for the remainder of the lease. A landlord can also not charge a ridiculous and unreasonable cancellation fee. Additionally, a landlord may not withhold the deposit instead of charging a cancellation fee. Landlords tend to think that they can withhold deposits for almost any reason, and this is most certainly not the case.

Unfortunately, there are landlords who ignore the CPA and insist that the tenant pay rent until the lease comes to an end when a tenant cancels the lease early. So, is there anything a tenant can do if the abovementioned is the case? Yes. A tenant can approach the National Consumer Tribunal for assistance or contact the Rental Housing Tribunal.

Tenants need to ensure that they read the lease agreement very carefully before signing and to also make note of any provisions made in the lease agreement concerning the early cancellation of the lease as per the CPA. It is expected of landlords to be up to date and aware of the provisions laid out for early cancellation of the lease, but some are not, and this can cause immense problems for tenants. If your prospective landlord refuses to recognise the fact that you may cancel your lease early, consider renting another property. Also, consider renting a different property if the landlord insists on harsh repercussions in the case of early cancellation of the lease.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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