Having paid the initial deposit, she fulfilled her monthly rental obligations for the full term of the lease.
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She says the landlord provided no written lease agreement and that no inspection was carried out at the inception or end of the lease.
Towards the end of the term she discovered that her “landlord” turned out to be the son of the owner and was renting out the property without the latter’s knowledge.
His refusal to refund her deposit has been going on for six months.
A number of potential legal issues could affect the situation.
If the son was truly acting without the knowledge of the father it is possible that his acts constitute fraud, which is a criminal offence.
Ignoring the failure to refund the deposit for the moment, the person who has technically suffered the greatest loss in this scenario is the owner – as he lost out on the rental.
It is also possible that the father and son are attempting to create a ruse whereby they hope that by putting up an ostensibly “good reason” they can avoid refunding the deposit.
The truth of the matter may be of some importance in order to rely on the provisions of the Rental Housing Act in respect of the refund of deposits by landlords.
The act requires that the landlord must, if he is not owed anything in terms of the lease, refund the deposit together with the accrued interest.
This must be done without any deduction or set-off within seven days of expiration of the lease.
The act also provides that a landlord be defined as the owner of a dwelling which is leased.
This includes his duly authorised agent or a person who is in lawful possession of a dwelling and has the right to lease or sub-lease it.
The reader could endeavour to place her ex-landlord on terms and demand that he complies with the act in that he should refund the deposit as is required.
In the event of him raising the “defence” that he is not the true landlord, the reader could approach the tribunal under the act for assistance.
Alternatively, she could seek legal advice to determine how best to proceed to recover the outstanding deposit and any interest accrued.
It is, for example, possible that the reader could raise the defence of estoppel.
In this situation, the owner’s son could be estopped from relying on the truth of the situation as he misrepresented the situation to the detriment of our reader in the first instance.
This scenario indicates that it may be increasingly necessary for tenants to screen their potential landlords and establish the authority of the landlord or representative to conclude a lease, just as it may be important for landlords to screen potential tenants.
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