Cape Town CBD. Photo: Storm Simpson.
Cape Town CBD. Photo: Storm Simpson.
A Cape Town landlord’s contract with a real estate agency was terminated on Tuesday, 19 October, after it emerged that the landlord discriminated against a prospective tenant on the basis of race. The real estate agent involved in the incident was also suspended pending an internal investigation.
A prospective tenant reached out to an estate agent via WhatsApp at approximately 15:18 on Monday, 18 October, and enquired about a rental property in the heart of the Cape Town CBD.
The fully furnished two-bedroom apartment is listed for R17 000 per month and is available for a 12 month period, according to a realtor’s website.
The estate agent – who has since been removed from the listing on the website – told the prospective tenant that the apartment was available to lease for 12 months in a WhatsApp message.
The following day, after the tenant sent several follow-up messages, the estate agent said, “The client is race specific. I would love for you to rent but she’s very tricky.”
When the tenant pointed out that being “race specific” was unconstitutional, the estate agent brushed off his concerns and said, “it’s not illegal how a landlord chooses their tenant. It’s not our fault,” before telling the tenant to find another apartment to lease.
“I decided to publish the conversation when I’d shared the screenshots on a group chat with my friends where we were all horrified by the blatant violation of the Constitution and Rental Housing Act and [the estate agent’s] deliberate disregard,” said the tenant to The South African.
Tyson Properties, the estate agency where the property is listed, told the tenant that the estate agent he was dealing with was terminated from the company recently and was working with another Cape Town agency – Live Real Estate. Despite this, the estate agent in question was listed on the Tyson Properties website until late on Tuesday afternoon and was still present on the Property24 listing at the time of publication.
“I received a number of phone calls from people at various levels of management at Tyson issuing apologies, showing sympathy and expressing shock at the incident,” said the tenant. He added that one of the agency’s employees said they were not surprised by the estate agent’s behaviour.
Tyson Properties Managing Partner Neil Abernathy told the tenant that the estate agency would consult with its lawyers and determine if legal action could be taken against the estate agent. The agency also offered to help the tenant. “They also offered to help me find a place should I still be interested in working with them.”
Tyson Properties said it does not condone or tolerate any form of racism amongst its partners, colleagues and clients in a statement on Tuesday night.
“We are horrified to learn of the actions of an ex-employee [estate agent’s name]. Tyson Properties will refuse to ever work with racist landlords,” said the property group’s directors.
At approximately 17:00 on Tuesday, the real estate agent’s current employer, Live Real Estate – a Sea Point-based agency – acknowledged the incident in a statement.
“We are aware of a current situation developing between one of our landlords and their tenant, who has been refused on the basis of race,” said Live Real Estate. “…we strongly do not condone this behaviour as this goes against what we stand for, not only as a company but as South Africans.”
Live Real Estate said it terminated the contract with the landlord and the estate agent involved in the matter has been suspended with immediate effect pending an internal investigation.
The agency also said it reached out to the tenant and offered to assist them “in whichever way [it] can.” The tenant said Live Real Estate essentially offered to help him find a rental property but he will hold off on taking up their offer until after the internal investigation.
The tenant said he intends to approach the Western Cape Housing Tribunal and the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EABB). He will also consider his legal options after the internal investigation into the estate agent is dealt with.
“I’m certainly not satisfied, the suspension is really a slap on the wrist if that’s all that happens and the landlord simply being terminated, or whatever it is, simply isn’t good enough, she can probably find just find another [real estate agent] or do it herself and then the core issue isn’t really addressed,” said the tenant.
Last week, a Zimbabwean couple were shocked when a real estate agent told them that another Cape Town property owner refused to sign their lease because they were black, according to a City Press report.
The tenant said “this specific use of racism is almost certainly widespread” and feels that measures that are more punitive are required “otherwise more people of colour will simply be excluded from living in cities where the majority of property is owned by people who can oppress them through it.”
No one is allowed to discriminate against people on the basis of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth – this applies to advertising a place to say and negotiating a lease with a would-be tenant.
Each province has a Rental Housing Tribunal, which is under the authority of the provincial MEC of Human Settlements. The Rental Housing Tribunal’s main function is to investigate and determine the validity of complaints lodged by tenants, property owners or interest groups concerning unfair practices.
The Tribunal has many powers of inspection, investigation and enquiry and once a complaint has been concluded, the Tribunal can order a variety of rulings. Lawful Living lists unfair practices, overcrowding, living conditions and more, as examples. It is a crime not to comply with any such ruling made by the Tribunal.
Edit: This article was amended at 9:30 on Wednesday, 20 October, to add Tyson Properties’ comment.