Stellenbosch Landlords: A reflection on the Rhodes University fire

Stellenbosch University, situated in the Winelands of the Cape, attracts students from all over the World. University accommodation is impressive, but unable to cater for the vast number of students that are enrolled in the University. Therefore, a large number of students lease premises in the Stellenbosch Central area.

The recent fire tragedy at Rhodes University highlights a potential problem that many students face, particularly in student ‘digs.’   Fire is a real threat to the Stellenbosch region. Wildfires are common during the dry summer months and heaters/fireplaces are utilized during the winter months. Furthermore, the houses in which students live are generally over 50 years old, sometimes up to 100 years old. It is also concerning that there are landlords that tend to take shortcuts, hiring “electricians” to re-do wiring at lower rates.*

Despite these threats, seeing a fire extinguisher in a student digs is a rare sight.

The Rental Housing Amendment Act 35 of 2014 (“the Act”) is due to come into effect in the near future. The Act may just provide the relief that students need.

Section 4(1)(b) of the Act indicates that the landlord must provide the tenant with a dwelling that is in an inhabitable condition.

The Act defines “Inhabitable” as an adequate space that is safe, suitable for living and protected from elements as well as other threats to health. This includes the safety of the tenant and visitors.

For a dwelling to be protected from the elements and other threats to health (fire), there should at least be a fire extinguisher inside the dwelling. This is the position in the UK where landlords are required to supply portable fire extinguishers as well as install fire detectors/alarms.

One possible implication of the amendment is that landlords will have an obligation to provide fire extinguishers inside their leased premises.

I would strongly encourage student tenants to engage their landlords to supply fire equipment, even prior to this amendment coming into effect, on the basis that it will safeguard their lives and the property of the landlord.

*Importantly, this will be an invariable provision once the Act comes into operation. Meaning there is a duty on the landlord regardless of what the terms of the lease agreement are. A landlord cannot exclude or vary this provision and any attempt will be of no effect.

*This a reflection of my own experience and that of 2 other students. By no means is it a reflection of all landlords. 

The above article does not constitute legal advice.

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