Call for rent control

Rental prices in Sea Point have skyrocketed in the past two years.

Sea Point resident Kogothatso Meka pays a third of his salary towards rent – he is just one of many young Capetonians finding it increasingly difficult to live in the suburb.

Mr Meka, who works as an investor and is originally from Johannesburg, said: “I am a middle class black South African, but Cape Town is not an economically friendly place. You want to be able to live in places near the city, but rent is becoming increasingly more expensive.”

This is the reality facing many people living in suburbs near the city. Gentrification and evictions are on the rise, with recent cases in Bo-Kaap, Salt River and Woodstock.

Research by activist group Ndifuna Ukwazi suggests rent in suburbs near the city centre has risen by at least 17 percent in the past two years.

They are lobbying the national Department of Human Settlements to implement the Rental Housing Amendment Act of 2014, which has been passed by parliament but still has to be promulgated by the president. They hope it will lend greater protection to tenants.

Ndifuna Ukwazi researcher Sarita Pillay said rising rents were making accommodation in the city more unaffordable for working class and low-income residents.

“For a domestic worker in Sea Point, renting a small poorly maintained room may be her only option of rental accommodation close to work – even then, it is expensive. The cost she bears is not only financial, but also emotional as she often cannot live with family or partners. Other domestic workers are forced to live in the only places they can afford outside of the City Bowl and take long commutes each day. Young-professionals are also affected by increasing rents, paying a high proportion of their salaries toward rent.”

Ndifuna Ukwazi believes the law needs to step in to protect tenants from unreasonable increases in rent.

“Ndifuna Ukwazi would like to see legislation in place that offers greater tenant protection. Particularly legislation that provides greater protection from unfair practices by landlords and more effective and accessible recourse to tenants, and legislation that protects affordable rent and prevents rents from being raised at unfair and exclusionary rates.

“We think the incoming Rental Housing Amendment Act is a positive step toward this. However this legislation still hasn’t been given a commencement date.”

Ms Pillay added that legislation needed to be considered to prevent exploitative month-to-month leasing which too easily allowed landlords to terminate leases and evict residents, even long-term tenants.

“Legislation also needs to place a higher burden on the private sector when tenants are evicted in the interest of new developments, or to increase rents.”

According to Ndifuna Ukwazi, the legislation had not been enacted due personnel changes in the Department of Human Settlements. “Arguably, and unfortunately, rental housing is not a high priority on Human Settlements’ agenda, and there is likely little pressure to give the bill a commencement date.”

Mr Meka said the ever-increasing rent was stopped a lot of young people wanted to work in Cape Town. “It affects me differently, but it still affects me. Rental increases are at least 8 to 12 percent a year (in Sea Point). The reality is that money is power. Gentrification is happening as we speak and even in some places in Sea Point. It is only going to get worse.”

Craig Robbe, who runs a restaurant in Long Street, said he had to reconsider where he could afford to live because the rent for his business was becoming expensive. “I’m 36 and I’ve had to move back with my folks while I reconsider what I can afford in terms of rent. My staff are also affected by this and they have to travel from so far away.

“It is becoming more difficult to make a business profitable and to live near your place of work. I would like to see (the act) implemented.”

Thozama Adonisi, a nurse at Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital who has lived in Sea Point for 30 years, stays in a small room with her daughter and mother. “The landlords will sometimes send letters to tenants in the middle of the month to tell them that rent is increasing. I would be glad if the act could happen because it will affect a lot of domestic workers in the area,” she said.

Property law expert Anri Smuts, speaking in his personal capacity, said the the Rental Housing Amendment Act was intended to give more protection to both tenants and landlords. However, he said, increasing rent was a way of life in big cities all over the world.

“The new act is intended to make sure that there are fair dealings It is also intended to provide assistance to government.”

He did not think the act would make a difference when it came to rent regulation.

“For most cities around the world a rent increase of 8 to 10 percent is normal. People have to make a profit and things like electricity and water become more expensive. People want to live near the city because it is convenient. But one of Cape Town’s biggest problems is that we don’t have a proper rapid public transport system that is affordable. This is one of the biggest problems in South Africa.”

Wayne van der Vent, an affordable-housing developer, said there needed to be rent control in some parts of the city. The issue, he argued, was not the law but the way it was applied.

The state, he said, could use tax or rates rebates, for example to incentivise affordable housing.

“It’s the gentrification element which is seeing people pushed out of the city, and people will not be able to afford to live in certain areas.”

He said one of the problems with land in Cape Town was that it cost as much to build a high-end building as it did an affordable housing one.

“It’s a sad set of economics and Cape Town suffers badly from it. We need to be dealing with the first steps, which is people being able to afford”. He cited London and New York as example where cities incentivise rent control in certain areas.

The provincial Department of Human Settlements said the act had advantages and disadvantages for both the tenant and landlord. They said it was an attempt to close the gaps identified in the Rental Housing Act of 1999, thereby creating balance in protection for both landlords and tenants.