MONEY CLINIC | As a private individual, can I request a rental payment holiday?

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A Fin24 reader whose son is a student at Stellenbosch University and stays at a private residence near the campus wants to know what his options are in requesting a rental payment holiday. 

He writes:

I read that a lot of businesses are considering paying landlords reduced rentals due to Covid 19. I have a son studying in Stellenbosch who stays in private student accommodation and since the March lockdown the university has been closed and he has been at home. It also seems that the university will not have any contact lectures until July. As a private individual without the clout of big business, what are my options to request a rental holiday/reduction? The lease is on an annual basis.

Liad Hadar, Director at Hadar Incorporated Attorneys & Conveyancers responds: 

Dear Reader

It is indeed true that several commercial and retail tenants are seeking reduced rental agreements with their landlords for the lockdown period.

Residential tenants face a very different situation, given that they generally remain/ed in occupation during the lockdown period. That being said, student accommodation, particularly in universities, is a further narrowed down category of residential tenancy. Given that your son leases a private residential premises (as opposed to a university residential premises – which would lead to a different discussion), I am of the view that rental remains owing and payable - despite him not occupying the premises.

The reason that this is different from commercial or retail tenants is that your son had the ability to occupy the premises but assumedly decided to return home when the universities closed and therefore chose not to be in occupation for the lockdown period. This is different from a situation in which a tenant in a commercial or retail premises could not lawfully occupy the premises.

Insofar as the options available to an individual leasing private student accommodation, my advice is to contact the landlord and although you do not have any legal entitlement, request assistance given the circumstances.

The assistance can be in the form of reduced rentals (or total reduction) for the period that the universities were closed or a repayment arrangement for the rentals that were due during the lockdown period and until your son reoccupies the premises. The landlord is under no obligation to accept this, but I certainly encourage landlords and tenants to work together and assist each other however they can – now more than ever. 

Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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