ELECTRICITY CUT BY MANAGING AGENTS OF BODY CORPORATE TO TENANTS
We have a townhouse that we rent out. Firstly, we acknowledge that we are in arrears with our levies after a disastrous financial year or two. This is not in dispute.Yesterday, the Managing Agent’s cut the electricity supply to our tenant and refuses to re-instate before we settle the arrears. We sent them various e-mails with the following information :
” Can a body corporate switch off the electricity to a unit in a sectional title complex where the owner (or his tenant) fails to pay his levies? The position is no different to the rights that a landlord may exercise: it an offence for the Body Corporate to shut off the utilities to a unit occupied by an owner or his tenant. Only a municipality can disconnect the supply to the electrical installation when any consumption charges due to the Council for electricity supplied are in arrears. If the body corporate unlawfully locks out a tenant or shuts off the utilities to the unit, the trustees shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to both such fine and imprisonment (in terms of Section 16 of The Rental Housing Act). It is similarly an offence in terms of Section 27(3) of The Electricity Act to cut off, damage or interfere with any apparatus for generating, transmitting or supplying electricity. If the Body Corporate cuts off the electricity, the tenant or owner can either lay a criminal charge or approach a lawyer to bring what is called a spoliation application to Court for an order to restore the power. The body corporate will have to pay the lawyer’s costs for taking the law into its own hands.
After this e-mail they still refuse to re-instate the electricity and rely on the AGM.
We cannot afford a spoliation application (the attorneys needs a retainer of R20000).
What can we do?
You are correct on the legal position. Your next option is to approach the Housing and Rental Tribunal in the free state as a matter of urgency. You should ask them to immediately instruct a restoration of the electricity supply pending adjudication of the matter. Spoliation applications can be done much cheaper in the Magistrates court. So you should speak to other lawyers on pricing and with respect to the recovery of cost from the managing agent if such an application is opposed. All the best.