Wading through water restrictions

The hot weather combined with water restrictions in the Western Cape make for a somewhat bleak, dry holiday season and summer ahead.

In the rental market, water restrictions can lead to some confusion as to managing tenant and landlord expectations. As the threat of Level 6 water restrictions looms – where essentially even using boreholes and wellpoints is being discouraged – measures must be put in place and adhered to.

“If a signed lease stipulates that a tenant has the enjoyment of an irrigation system and the landlord provides garden maintenance, for example, then it is the landlord’s responsibility to make alternative arrangements as water restrictions are in place,” says Natalie Muller, regional head of rentals at Jawitz Properties Western Cape and Gauteng.

When no water is allowed to be used in the garden – other than grey water or similar – this makes the situation more complicated.

“As droughts cannot be predicted, a wise solution is to get expert opinion on how to handle the lease agreement in light of these restrictions,” says Muller.

You can renegotiate the terms of the lease agreement, in writing, to indicate that the garden is not the tenant’s responsibility or that some of the plants must be tended to, or that it is expected that the lawn may die.

“As maintaining a garden is a costly business – not to mention highly restrictive now – it is very important to have this discussion and mutually agree on the way forward. The addendum on the other hand, could state that the tenant not be held liable for watering the lawn,” she adds.

Neither a landlord nor a tenant can be expected to comply with a lease agreement if it breaks the law, or will incur costly fines for water usage. Tenants who think that using water irresponsibly because their landlord might be paying for it, cannot be surprised if they are given notice, or if the landlord tries to take action against them. Landlords can also arrange with the City of Cape Town to impose restrictions on the water supply should tenants not abide by the rules to save water.

The restrictions further stipulate that a swimming pool that does not have a cover may not be filled. A pool cover is made bespoke and is costly but it will fall on the landlord to provide one if the lease says the tenant has access to a pool.

“Landlords could even make arrangements with the tenant not to put the rent up for a certain period in exchange for the tenant buying the pool cover. There are various solutions that can work, but it must be stipulated in writing. Importantly, a landlord cannot deny a tenant a pool cover if access to a pool is part of the rental agreement,” Muller says.

It is also important to note that pools that are left to dry up are likely to cause even more problems. Tenants who are supposed to have access to a pool have recourse against the landlord if nothing is done to provide a pool cover. Tenants should, however, keep an eye on the pool pump – should it run dry, there will be even bigger issues to contend with.

Additionally, tenants can insist that landlords make further provision for water saving, just as landlords can request tenants to be more vigilant.

“If any leaks are suspected by either party, please have these seen to as soon as possible – we are all in this together and if you see anyone not honouring water restrictions, report or educate them. We have to act collectively to make a difference and must do our best to save as much water as we can, learning from this hard lesson to avoid letting the taps run completely dry,” Muller concludes.