‘We can’t pay our rent’

2020-04-23 14:00
SA's gradual return to business is positive, but not enough, say experts.

SA's gradual return to business is positive, but not enough, say experts.

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Landlords and tenants in Pietermaritzburg are beginning to feel the pinch of the lockdown as the economic crisis deepens.

While a third of South Africa’s tenants haven’t paid their full rent this month, according to preliminary data from Tenant Profile Network (TPN), a credit bureau that tracks tenant payment behaviour, May could look much worse.

The lockdown is having a negative impact on rentals in respect of both residential and commercial letting in the city.

Bruce Campbell, CEO of Natal Property Consultants, who manages over 700 houses, townhouses and flats in and around the city, said he has received phone calls and e-mails from desperate tenants requesting some form of relief on their May rentals.

This is because they have not been paid for April or their salaries have been reduced.

“Some tenants are requesting a reduction in their rental while others are asking to make a payment arrangement by paying a reduced rental and to catch up later with regards to any shortfall,” he said.

Due to the lockdown, his offices are closed and it is difficult for him and his staff to make decisions on the way forward without first consulting with property owners.

Campbell added that most landlords have bonds to pay from their rental while others rely on it to meet their living expenses.

Another problem is that if the agency does not collect rent, then it can’t pay the landlords’ municipal bills.

This will ultimately result in the tenant having his/her electricity supply cut off by the municipality.

“There does not appear to be any quick fix solution.

“The Department of Employment and Labour have conceded to the fact that they cannot cope with the UIF claims that businesses have submitted, so payments to employees are likely to be delayed somewhat.

“Smaller businesses need to look into getting loans that are available from various small business entities that are offering interest-free loans during this difficult time, to supplement their loss of income to alleviate the issue of nonpayment of salaries to their staff.

“Ultimately, we are all in this together and we need to help each other as much as possible and in each individual case that we are experiencing, we are trying our utmost to get the landlord to be accommodating as far as possible,” he said.

Shaun Dubois of Just Property said some tenants, mainly the self-employed, have expressed concern about paying May rental.

“We are all working remotely and trying to assist tenants during this difficult time on a case by case basis.

“Once we receive supporting documents such as confirmation from their company or bank statements we are able to approach the owners to try and find a solution.

“Many tenants that were due to move on March 31, were not able to and we hope to have clarity soon regarding if tenants will be able to move out at the end of April,” he said.

Albie Timmerman of RentalsDotCom First Choice said at the moment only a small percentage of people have indicated they can’t afford rent. However, the situation could change as it’s not the end of the month yet.

“We have been deferring payments and offering a ental holiday.”

Christo Pretorius, principal agent at Dormehl Phalane in Pietermaritzburg, said there have been tenants who indicated they can’t afford to pay rent at all or the full amount.

In these cases, he is asking for proof, which he is sending to landlords. They can then approach the bank to get a holiday period.

However, since rental agreements still stand, legal procedures, such as the issuing of demand letters, are still continuing.

It still has to be worked out how tenants will pay for the month they miss.

“It’s something new.

“We don’t know how it is going to happen,” he said.

Local landlord Sduh Ndlovu said he just used his last savings to renovate his apartments two months ago.

“I do not know what to do. I have no tenants and those that are still around are not paying.”

Attorney Suren Singh, who owns commercial and residential properties in the city, Northdale and Belfort, said a lot of his tenants indicated they won’t be able to afford rent.

“How can I expect them to pay, given what is happening,” he said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  lockdown
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