Understanding the Law
July 6, 2018
Tips for staying within the law and out of court

I do believe in a peaceful society, not a contentious one. I believe that civil laws should be used in a non-contentious manner and not be used to fight court battles, evoking anger and vitriol against one another. Court battles should not be the order of the day and should essentially be the last resort. There is a way to avoid contentious situations by creating positive conditions.

Whatever you do should be guided by informed choices.

Find the right tenant

If you are an owner of premises you intend to rent, it is incumbent upon you to find the right person, that is, the person who would pay the rent that is consistent with the agreement. This is what is required of tenants, but unfortunately many cases end up in court with the landlord seeking to eject persons from rental premises and having to retrieve rent owing (mesne profit).

You might want to advertise in the local newspaper for tenants. This means that you could be offering your property to total strangers. You would have to do your homework. You need to carry out extensive enquiries on prospective tenants to make sure that you find the right person, and the right person is one who would pay the rent agreed upon, and take care of the premises. You need to do some background checks, find out about salary, income and credit. A tenancy based on good choices would not lead to court battles.

For your own security, let the tenant sign a lease agreement and make sure the covenants are clearly stated. When the tenant misses a month without a proper excuse, be prepared to take action immediately, otherwise you might find that you are owed six or more months’ rent that you are not likely to recover. After the tenant is ejected the next task would be to go to court to collect the money owing, but you might not have the time and energy to take further legal steps to collect. The law does not allow for distress, so you cannot take off the roof, windows or doors of a house, and you cannot change the locks while the tenant is in occupation. I maintain that you choose the right person to live in your house.

Contracts to build and repair

Constructing or renovating a house is a tedious and expensive venture, but you need to contract builders who have the experience and who are financially savvy. There are so many sad stories where a paid contractor is unable to complete the job because there is no money remaining. You need to know about the reputation of the contractor. Before you contract to do your project you must make sure that background checks are done. It is advisable that you manage the money with periodic payment, and not full payment. Make sure the work done is measured against money paid before expending more money. You might be able to go to court and obtain a judgment, but unable to collect money owing to you. You could spend thousands of dollars on court and legal fees without collecting a cent, because you are dealing with a straw man who is unable and unwilling to pay. I know of one particular person who obtained judgment against the contractor, but was unable to recover because the contractor’s assets could not be found. She had the option of either leaving the house to rot, or find another source to finance the repairs.