Illegal overcrowding in rented properties can become a huge problem for Landlords. As the number of occupants in a rented property increases, so will the utilities bill while infrastructure cannot withstand the overload and dilapidation generally starts to occur. Beyond the grave effect of property depreciation in these cases, there are many other problems to take into consideration.
The complex tends to become unpleasant and in sometimes even hostile - especially when the unit is in a sectional title complex accommodating a great number of people. Overcrowding is the first thing that will be noticeable followed by the increase in utilities. The increase in utilities can cause the most damaging problem for the Landlord however parking and waste removal will also become a problem. Majority of the time overcrowding is usually common among students and low paid immigrants.
In areas like Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria and Cape Town city CBD’s, there are few available units to rent. Sometimes the tenant who signs the lease doubles up on the number of occupants in the unit, normally making a reasonable profit while providing 'affordable' rents to those who need somewhere to stay.
At PrepaidMeters.co.za we have various clients that installed prepaid electricity meters in such environments for this specific reason. The reason behind the installation was always utilities revenue protection. However, in many cases we have witnessed that as soon as electricity meters were installed or water meters the overcrowding had reduced or disappeared altogether. The reason is simple: the tenants ask the sub-tenants to pay electricity and/or water and when the costs go up, as utility prices are not cheap, the sub-tenants leave. This was not the intended reason behind prepayment installation; but it was found to be a beneficial side effect.
This has happened many times especially in Pretoria CBD to name a few specific cases. One of our clients even said: “Before the meters, the complex used to look like a Christmas tree. As soon as the meters were installed, over half of the electricity was turned off most of the time and only half of the usual amounts of cars were parked in the parking bays”.
This proving that there was indeed overcrowding, as it was assumed; as a result of the prepaid meters being installed it was reduced significantly and alleviated some of the other associated problems. Tough we are sure this won’t happen in all the cases, and it is not an absolute solution, it has been proven to work in many cases with almost immediate results.
The problem tends to end up with the landlord as stipulated in the Municipal Systems Act section 118. The landlord will be held responsible for allowing the overcrowding to have taken place even if it has been done without his notice and by not putting a stop to it. Landlords could find themselves in difficult times due to the extra tenants as this often occurs without their knowing about it and the perpetrators, sometimes acting as mini landlords themselves, can resort to intimidation and threats of violence. This is especially the case where such people are involved in other illegal activities.
It might seem helpless for a Landlord in the struggle with overcrowding, but he is legally within his right to install sub- meters, which is an easy and cost effective step to reduce at least utility consumption risk, hopefully with many other side benefits. In situations like these it would be suggested that the Landlord fit a sub-meter that has maximum tamper protection or tamper detection. Tamper detections can alert the landlord to any illegal connections which may occur and prompt an immediate inspection, which could bring to light overcrowding or the end of overcrowding.