Can a landlord’s failure to maintain the property result in the cancellation of a lease agreement?

Property Matters

The landlord advertises a property for rent. The tenant views the property. Like, sign, pay, move in. All is well, until the property suffers some form of deterioration that seriously impacts on the tenant’s living conditions. Is the landlord responsible for the maintenance of the property? Is the tenant able to terminate the lease if the property is poorly maintained?


It is important to understand that an agreement of lease is a two-way street:

  • The landlord owns the leased property. But the use and enjoyment of the property is given to the tenant for the duration of the lease.
  • The tenant pays the landlord an agreed rental in exchange for the use and enjoyment of the property.


In exchange for receiving rent, the landlord has a duty to ensure the property is in a reasonably habitable condition and allows the tenant undisturbed use. In addition, the landlord has a duty to maintain the property in the same reasonably habitable condition. If the property falls into a state of disrepair that makes occupation intolerable, the tenant would have a strong argument for early termination. But bear in mind the following:


  • This depends on the terms of the lease agreement, and the rights and obligations placed on both the landlord and the tenant;
  • If the tenant (or, by extension, his/her friends, family, guests or pets) was responsible for the deterioration in the property (aside from fair wear and tear) then the tenant would probably be responsible for the repairs;
  • The tenant would first need to notify the landlord that the property needs maintenance. If the landlord doesn’t attend to the maintenance even after receiving a written demand from the tenant in the manner set out in the lease agreement, then the tenant would most likely be entitled to cancel the lease and move out.


Alternatively, if there’s doubt as to whether the landlord is responsible for the maintenance in question, and if the tenant isn’t up for the fight, then the tenant can give 20 business days’ notice of cancellation of the lease, as permitted in terms of the Consumer Protection Act. But in this instance the tenant may become liable to pay a cancellation penalty.


Ultimately, what is of most importance is that the landlord and tenant sign a written Lease Agreement that clarifies each party’s maintenance obligations. Clearly if the tenant caused it, the tenant repairs it. And if there’s a major maintenance issue that renders the property virtually uninhabitable which the tenant had nothing to do with, then the landlord repairs it. But problems come in with the interpretation of the grey areas in between. So make sure you have a rental agreement in place that addresses maintenance obligations.


Please note that this information is supplied for general information and does not constitute legal advice. It is advisable for you to contact a legal practitioner for guidance in respect of your unique requirements.