Durban tenant’s light bulb moment
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Durban tenant’s light bulb moment

So why would a tenant ask the rental agency to send a maintenance person round to change her lightbulb? Surely she should have expected to pay a call-out fee if she got someone in to do that for her?

Wendy's lightbulb
Wendy Knowler

Listen to this week's Consumerwatch topic below, or read the details under the podcast.

Well, yes, but that’s not what happened in Marcia Shandu’s case. Far from it. In fact, when she moved into her flat in central Durban last September, the light fittings had no bulbs in them. She fitted her own.

In the bathroom, the light fitting, sitting flush on the ceiling, had no cover, she says. It was broken and lying on the counter.
In April, Marcia heard a buzzing sound from the light fitting and the bulb was flashing, so she suspected an electrical fault and reported this to the rental agent - Apartment Box - and was told via email that such repairs were for the tenant’s cost, and that someone would be sent round to check it out and give her a quote.

But that quote never happened. Instead, she arrived home from the gym to be told by her flatmate that the rental agency had sent a maintenance person over, who’d taken a look, replaced the globe, and that was it.

“Next thing I got an email requesting payment of R475, which I thought it was ridiculous,” Marcia said. “I told the agents they were supposed to send me a quote allowing me to decide if I wanted the light fitting fixed now or if I could wait and see if I could afford it, or just not have a light…”

When they wouldn’t budge, she turned to me for help.

First I checked the lease because tenants shouldn’t be made to pay for repairs for the damage they didn’t cause.

The lease says the tenant must replace or repair fittings which were damaged, destroyed or lost by them. What Marcia experienced wasn’t as a result of any damage by her. 

Then I took up Marcia's case with the agency Apartment Box’s operations manager Alvyra Skinner and to her credit, she conceded that Marcia had been wronged.

“Our process and procedures were not adhered to by the maintenance staff,” she said. “Ms Shandu should never have been charged for the work as no quotation was submitted to her for approval, and besides, the work in question should have been for the landlord’s account."

“I have reversed the charges with immediate effect.” The staff in question would be retrained, she said, adding that if the matter had been brought to management’s attention by Marcia at the time, she would have resolved it then.

Read: Cyber criminals take the Liberty of helping themselves to client info

I pointed out that it’s illegal to have exposed wiring in a bathroom, and I’m happy to report that a newly covered light fitting has since been installed by the agents in the flat.

It’s been a series of light-bulb moment for Marcia: “I’ve realised that when I move into a flat, I need to inspect with the agent so that we can note everything that is faulty or wrong or broken before I move in. Plus, I need to know my rights as a tenant.”

*If that ingoing inspection doesn’t happen for whatever reason, tenants should take photos of all problem areas and send them to the landlord or agent immediately.  

Think twice before knocking any nail or hook into a rental unit’s wall or cupboard, and if you do, remove them and restore the surface, expertly, yourself, before you move out. Otherwise, the cost fixing and repainting will be deducted from your deposit.

If the landlord fails to inspect a unit when a tenant moves out - in the presence of the tenant - this is taken as an acknowledgement that it’s in a good state and they must then refund the full deposit, plus interest, within a week.

If you feel that your deposit has been unfairly withheld or reduced, lodge a dispute with the Rental Housing Tribunal.

*To get in touch with Wendy, email her via her Facebook page - wendyknowlerconsumer. Use the email button.

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