HJD Robertson

Margaret Thatcher said: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

In South African law a landlord may decide whether he or she wants to rely on specific performance[1] or claim for damages in instances where a tenant has made home improvements to the rented property without the landlord’s consent.[2]

In the matter of Yolanda Daniels v Theo Scribante and Another[3], Ms. Daniels, after unsuccessfully attempting to engage with her landlord regarding planned home improvements, decided that she was not going to sit back and accept the aforementioned state of affairs. Ms. Daniels considered “basic human amenities”[4] and appointed a contractor to start building. It should be kept in mind that the tenant offered to pay all costs incurred for the improvements.

Her landlord responded with an attorney’s letter, demanding that all improvements be halted with immediate effect.  This then culminated in a court application[5] of note which made its way up through the court system to the Constitutional Court.

The majority judgement of the court found that the Extension of Security of Tenure Act[6] affords an occupier the right to make improvements to his/her dwelling without the consent of the property owner. The court, however, added that meaningful engagement with an owner or person in charge, by the tenant, is required.  The court deems these negotiations necessary because the exercise of the occupier’s right has the potential of intruding on an owner’s property right under Section 25 of the Constitution.[7]

Lastly, the court held that in instances where improvements are made to property, even without the owner consenting to said improvements, the court has the discretion to order compensation in favour of the occupier.

Thanks to one woman’s refusal to accept the unreasonable behaviour of her landlord not affording her the opportunity to improve her home, justice was served. We tip our hats to Yolanda Daniels.

[1] Specific performance is an order of a court which requires a party to perform a specific act, usually what is stated in a contract.

[2] ISEP Structural Engineering and Planting (Pty) Ltd v Inland Exploration Co (Pty) Ltd 1981 (4) SA 1 (A).

[3] Case Number CCT 50/2016. 2016 ZACC 13.  Heard on 17 November 2016.  Judgment dated 10 may 2017.

[4] The improvements included levelling of floors, paving part of the outside area and the installation of indoor water supply, a wash basin, a second window and a ceiling.

[5] Yolanda Daniels v Theo Scribante and Another. Case Number CCT 50/2016. 2016 ZACC 13.  Heard on 17 November 2016.  Judgment dated 10 may 2017.

[6] 62 of 1997.

[7] Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.