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Landlord from Hell (Part 2)

The story so far: I wish to move out of the house I am living in, although my lease only expires in seven months time. Read the first installment to find out why I wished to leave.

The lease that I signed when I moved into the house had a specific clause in it dealing with early termination of the agreement:

early termination clause

Resident may terminate this agreement before Expiration of the original term by:
(a) Giving management at least one month's written notice to be effective only on the last day of a given month; plus
(b) Paying all monies due through date of termination; plus
(c) Paying an amount equal to one month's Rent; plus
(d) Returning residence in a clean, ready to rent condition;
(e) Paying for advertising necessary to rent residence.
Scans of the rest of the lease are available here.

When I moved into the house, I paid R5000, which covered the first and last month's rent (2*R2500) - here, the "last month" was the last month in the lease, i.e. March next year. This is detailed in handwriting at the bottom of page 1 of the lease.

Then, when I paid rent for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th months, I paid an extra R1000 each month, for R3000 in total, which covered the deposit that is standard in most leases. This R3000 was suppose to be given back to me when I moved out of the house, minus R500 "cleaning fee" (so I would get R2500 back). This is detailed in point 6 at the top of page 2 of the lease.

So, he has R5500 of my money right now.

On Monday the 30th of July, I gave him one month's written notice that I would be moving out, as per part (a) of the early termination clause detailed above.

I wish the "last month's rent" that I paid him at the beginning to be used as rent for this month, August, and the deposit that I paid him in R1000 installments to be used as the "amount equal to one month's rent" described in clause (c) above. He can then advertise and send me an invoice, and I will pay that. Thus, I think I have fulfilled the conditions of the above clause.

However, he came to me shortly after I gave him written notice, and told me that clause (b) above means that I have to pay R2500 rent every month from now until March next year, instead of simply paying the rent for this month, August.

In other words, he is interpreting "through date of termination" to mean the original date of termination of the lease. Since the phrase occurs in an "early termination" clause, I am interpreting it to mean the new date of termination as detailed in my written notice.

By his interpretation, early termination of the lease as described in the lease would entail me continuing to pay rent, even though I moved out, and paying the one month penalty and advertising fees, and so on, which does not make sense to me - the entire clause becomes absurd and unnecessary. I think that any reasonable reading of the lease would decide in my favour.

I tried to talk to him about this, but he refused to enter into any discussion about the lease. He said that I could move out if I wished, but if I did not find somebody to replace myself, and did not pay him the rest of the rent money for the rest of the year, he would hand me over to his lawyers and debt collectors, wash his hands of the matter, and let them get the money from me.

Having discussed this matter with several people, I decided that he was either simply incorrect, or bluffing in an attempt to get me to either pay him, or find somebody to replace myself. Either way, I felt that I had fulfilled my legal obligations, and that if he did send lawyers after me, the courts would settle in my favour.

I think it became clear to him that I was not going to be intimidated into finding a replacement for myself, or paying for the rest of the year. On Sunday morning, at 7:30am, he knocked on my door and woke me up. He said "we have a parking problem, get your keys, and come downstairs, NOW". I went downstairs, sleepy and bewildered, and he told me that I owed him one month of rent. I restated that I had fulfilled my obligations, and would not be giving him any more money. He then asked me if I had driven into the gate when I had come home last night. (He has accused me wrongly of doing this before, with absolutely no evidence.) I said I had not, and he asked to see my gate remote control. When I handed it over to him, he took it off my keys, gave the keys back, and told me that he would be keeping it. Then, he asked me again to pay him this month's rent, and I once again reiterated my stance. At this point, he stood up, and said that I had to remove my car from his property immediately, or he would call a towtruck and have it removed. When I asked him why, he said "Because I say so - you have no right to keep your car on my property if I don't want it here."

Since he had confiscated my gate key, so I would have no way to get the car in and out of the property in the future, I moved my car onto the road outside, and returned to ask him for a pedestrian key so that I could get in and out of the gate - the only means of access to the property. He said he would give me one "when he was ready", and refused to say when this would be. I told him that I needed to get in and out of the property, and he said that I could ring the bell if I wanted the gate opened, and somebody would open it for me. At this stage, I raised my voice and demanded a set of keys from him loudly. In response, he phoned the police station. He told them that I had "arrived home drunk" the night before and was being disorderly and disruptive and that he wanted them to come and deal with me. While we waited for the police to arrive, I also phoned the police station, and detailed the scenario. The sergeant said that they could not come and force him to give me keys, and advised me to see a lawyer the next day. When the police arrived in response to his call, I explained the entire situation to them, and they said that they could not settle a dispute of this nature, and that we should speak to lawyers. The policeman was very nice and sympathetic, but explained the exact law very clearly. He suggested that we sit down and discuss the matter, and offered to attend the meeting to mediate if we wished him to. However, he told me that if I shouted at my landlord again, and he placed another call to the police, they would be forced by law to arrest me. He told me very nicely that I should just walk away and calm down, to avoid this. At this point, George attempted to get him to arrest me then on the spot, by telling him that I was being a hazard to the household and was causing a disruption. The policeman did not comply with his request, and departed shortly afterwards.

It transpired that I know one of the other tenants who has just moved into the house, although neither of us knew that the other one was there, but she witnessed the entire scene on Sunday morning, and can confirm my reporting of the scenario.

Since at that point I had no really viable way to get in and out of the property, I took some clothes and toiletries, and left the house. I have not been back since then, and I am staying with friends until I can find somewhere else to live. Most of my property is still in the house, locked in my room.

This morning, I phoned the Rental Housing Tribunal and explained the entire story to them. They said that it sounded like I was completely in the right legally, and that I had good grounds for a case against my landlord, and suggested that I go and see them tomorrow morning, with a copy of my lease, which I shall do.

That is the story of my house - I shall continue to post here as events unfold.