How landlords can legally terminate a lease agreement early

    Seeff provides some valuable advice for landlords looking to terminate a lease agreement early.

    Landlord, do you wish you could say goodbye to your unruly, uncooperative tenants? The good news is that it is legally possible to terminate a lease agreement before its agreed-upon organic termination date - as long as you provide a substantial explanation or sufficient time for the tenant to vacate the premises.

    If you’re looking to terminate a lease agreement early, we’re here to answer your pressing questions. 

    When can I Terminate a lease early?

    According to the Rental Housing Act, landlords can terminate a lease early in certain circumstances, such as if the tenant has not paid rent or has otherwise breached the terms of the lease agreement.

    While it’s relatively straightforward to terminate a lease agreement due to unpaid rent, not every situation is so simple to navigate. If you are uncertain of your rights as a landlord in your particular situation, it is always advisable to seek the guidance of a legal professional.  

    Here are several other legally acceptable grounds to terminate a lease agreement in South Africa:

    Illegal use of the property

    If the tenant uses the property for illegal purposes, such as subletting to another tenant without your permission or running an illegal business, this is grounds for eviction. The lease agreement should clearly stipulate what the property in question can be used for, and any deviations from this are considered a breach of the contract.

    Furthermore, if the use of the property includes illegal operations or does not adhere to zoning provisions, the tenant may incur a penalty or more severe legal consequences.

    Unacceptable or dangerous property conditions 

    If a tenant is responsible for causing a health hazard or damage to the property, this is grounds for you to evict. However, your tenant can also terminate a lease prematurely if you - the landlord - create an unsafe or uninhabitable property.

    The following conditions are deemed dangerous and grounds for early termination of the lease:

    • Electrical hazards.
    • Fire hazards.
    • Structural problems such as unstable walls or ceilings.
    • Lack of proper ventilation.
    • Black mould.
    • Threats to the tenants’ health.

    As the landlord, the law instructs you to provide your tenant with a safe and habitable dwelling. Depending on the lease agreement, you may be responsible for resolving issues such as mould or leaks.

    If you are concerned about the state of your property and want to be proactive and preventative in this regard, learn more about the property management tools that are at your disposal and ensure that you keep up with your maintenance responsibilities.

    Selling the property to a new owner

    Selling the property may give you or the new buyer certain legal rights to end a lease agreement or evict a tenant. Most leases have a home selling clause that allows a seller or buyer to terminate a lease in the event of a sale. However, the landlord must give the tenant sufficient notice.

    If no such clause exists in the lease agreement, consider consulting a lawyer to clarify your responsibilities. 

    How can I terminate a lease agreement early?

    Lease cancellations are subject to the Rental Housing Act of 1999 and the Consumer Protection Act of 2008, both of which landlords should familiarise themselves with before making any sudden moves.

    Legally, there is a significant difference between taking action to terminate a lease before the agreed-upon date and cancelling when the tenant has breached the terms of the agreement. 

    • Tenants must be given written notice at least 20 days before the lease agreement is terminated, and this notice has to be delivered to their address or registered mail. 

      In exceptional circumstances, if the landlord and the tenant both desire the early cancellation of the lease agreement, this is legally acceptable. However, this isn’t a common occurrence. 

    • If the lease agreement has already expired, but the tenant refuses to leave the property, the landlord may legally proceed with an eviction. This process may require the landlord to give the tenant further notice and time to vacate, even after filing an eviction lawsuit. 

      Once a lawsuit has been filed, it is possible to have unpaid rent and damages covered.

    The Western Cape Government provides more information on some of the more intricate legalities and procedures surrounding the unlawful occupation of land.

    What happens after I terminate a lease agreement?

    If the lease has expired or been terminated, and you, the landlord, continue to accept rental payments, you effectively create a new lease. This is upheld by law in terms of the CPA. Therefore, it is not advisable to continue to accept payments beyond the lease termination date, even if your tenant requires additional time to vacate.

    Some fixed-term leases automatically become month-to-month implied leases after they expire, and it is worth revising your rental agreement in case such a clause was agreed upon.  

    If the lease agreement is terminated due to your own actions, such as providing an unsafe dwelling, consider providing the tenant with a relocation allowance. This is not required by law, but may be a necessary step to ensure that the tenant does not suffer any undue hardship as a result of the lease agreement termination.

    If you cannot contribute to assisting your tenant financially, there are other valuable ways to help. Your contribution could be as small as helping the tenant find suitable alternative accommodation or assisting with the move. These small gestures will make a difference in your tenant’s experience. 

    couple discussing lease agreement with real estate agent

    If you are ready to terminate a lease agreement but want to do so legally and with care, contact Seeff for advice or consult a qualified legal professional.

    Read our blog to learn more about your responsibilities as a landlord in South Africa or on landlord insurance and how it protects your property investment.

    Author: Seeff Property Group
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