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“I can’t pay rent” — Here are your rights in South Africa

Eviction notice printed in red on a piece of paper being pinned to a wooden door

Are you struggling to pay your rent?

Realising that you can’t afford to pay our landlord is a terrifying thing. The consequences can be severe, and if the situation is handled poorly, it could mean winding up on the street.

Here is some information that will help you get through this. Go through this post to learn what your rights are and what options are available to you, and take action to secure a roof over your head.

Let’s start with your rights.


Rights of tenants in South Africa

A graphic that lists the right of tenants in South Africa

If you can’t pay your rent and are afraid that you’ll get evicted, keep these rights in mind:


  • Your landlord may not evict you without a court order
  • Landlords may not change the locks on your rental unit prior to legal eviction
  • You have the right to appropriate notice before your landlord enters your rental unit (at least 24 hours)
  • If you are behind on rent and in breach of your rental agreement then you must be given 14 days notice before the eviction process may begin
  • If you’re able to pay the outstanding rent within 14 days of receiving your notice then you have the right to stay
  • Landlords must follow proper eviction procedure and do so with a court order


As you can see, tenants have rights that protect them from unfair landlords, but landlords have rights too…


Can a landlord evict you for not paying rent?

Yes, there is no legal privilege for South Africans that cannot pay their rent and any landlords that obtain a court order and follow the proper eviction procedure in South Africa have the right to evict tenants.

Tenants have to do their part and fulfil a number of obligations while renting a property. Here are tenant’s obligations:


  • Pay the full amount of rent in the specified currency at the right time.
  • Look after the rental unit
  • Tenants may not use the property for other purposes than for which it was let
  • When the lease terminates, the property must be restored to the same condition that it was originally rented in.
  • Pay on time and in accordance with the specifications of the rental agreement
  • Pay a deposit that is agreed upon by the landlord and the tenant
  • Have a joint inspection with the landlord before and after the rental period.


Okay, so we’ve covered your rights and your obligations, now let’s look at what you can do if you can’t pay your rent in South Africa.

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5 Things you can do if you can’t pay your rent

Here is a list of things that you can do to save yourself from eviction:

  1. Try to negotiate a payment plan that works for both parties
  2. Find a cheaper rental unit
  3. Apply for debt review to reduce the cost of your debt
  4. Talk to a lawyer about your legal options
  5. Try to get government assistance that can help you cover the cost of your rent


Approach the Rental Housing Tribunal

A braphic list of the 5 things that you can do if you can't pay your rent
1. Negotiate a payment plan

Be open, and let your landlord know that you’re having difficulty paying rent. Explain why, what you’re doing about it, and negotiate a payment plan.


Suggest a rental cost that you can afford, give your landlord a timeline, and include how you will repay what you’ll owe. Remember, your landlord is entitled to the full rental amount, so make your offer attractive so that they’ll agree.


2. Finding a cheaper rental unit

You might not be able to pay your current rent, but a cheaper unit might still be affordable. So hop online and start seeing what other houses or apartments are available in your area.


You might have to downgrade significantly, but it is better than getting evicted and ending up on the street.


3. Apply for debt review to reduce your expenses

Debt review can help reduce your monthly debt repayment amount. The process takes your income, total debt, and cost of living into account and reduces your monthly debt instalment to make everything affordable again.


4. Getting legal advice

Anyone that can afford to talk to a lawyer could benefit from seeking out professional legal advice. A lawyer could look at the rental agreement and recommend the best possible course of action.


5. Making use of Government and non-governmental assistance

If you qualify, then the  following South African government organisations can help you to cover your rent by providing subsidies, loans, or financial support.



6. Arranging a dispute through the Rental Housing Tribunal

The Tribunal is a court that handles disputes between tenants and landlords, which means that they can rule in your favour or in your landlords favour.

If your landlord is doing something wrong, then the tribunal court can help protect you and settle the dispute.


Bonus: see if you can start a side hustle in South Africa to earn more so you can afford your rent.


Final Thoughts

Don’t lose hope, you have options, and with enough persistence and resourcefulness — you can get through it.

Remember that debt review could help you to reduce your monthly debt instalment so that you can allocate more of your income towards rent — try our free assessment to see if you qualify, we’d love to help.

Do you know whether you qualify?

Find out if you’re eligible to reduce your debt and protect your belongings.

Disclaimer: This website and any information herein is not intended to be, nor does it constitute, financial, tax, legal, investment, credit, or other advice. Before making any decision or taking any action regarding your finances, you should consult a qualified professional directly.

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