Landlord Responsibility: Addressing Unlawful Tenant Actions

As a landlord, you may be held accountable for your tenant's unlawful actions on your property if you knew about them and didn't take steps to stop them.

January 11, 2024

As a property owner, it is understood that from the day you transfer the property into your name, you become liable for certain things, such as levies, municipal rates, and taxes. In addition, if the property owner conducts any unlawful activities on his property, liability for such wrongdoing will rest on him. However, when landowners let their property to a tenant and the tenants conduct these unlawful activities on the rented premises, a question might arise when the landlord becomes liable for the tenant’s unlawful actions or activities carried out on the property.

Two facts must be established to hold the landowners liable for the tenant’s unlawful actions. First, the landowners must know unlawful activities are conducted on their property. Secondly, the landowner must have failed to prevent illegal activities on the property.

1. Knowledge of the unlawful act.

As a point of departure, the landowner must know about the unlawful activities on his premises. He does not need to see such activities happening but must be made aware of such activities. This may take the form of a notice by a neighbour, an aggrieved party or anyone who might know the conduct.

2. Failure to prevent the unlawful activities from continuing.

After the landowner knows the unlawful activities conducted on his premises, he has the duty to prevent them from continuing. Sending a letter to the tenants asking them to stop those will not suffice in some instances. He must take reasonable steps to prevent the continuation of those activities. Suppose the landowner has knowledge of the unlawful activity and does not take reasonable steps to prevent it from continuing. In that case, it will appear that he permitted or consented to continue those activities.

Allowing such activities to continue in your property may lead to severe consequences for the landlord. Depending on unlawful activity on the property, the landowner might be fined up to R300 000.00 or imprisoned for three years.


In conclusion, as a landowner/landlord, you may become liable for unlawful actions committed by your tenant if you knew of them and did not prevent them from continuing. Therefore, vetting your tenants to avoid such occurrences thoroughly is advisable. However, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having such a tenant, you must take the necessary action to stop the continuation of such activities on your property.

Written by: Mpho Molapo
Moderated and approved by: Clive Smith

1   The University of Pretoria v Roger and Others 2023 ZAGPPHC par 48-52.

2 The University of Pretoria v Roger and Others 2023 ZAGPPHC par 54-56.

3   Section 11 in Gen Not 839 of 2014 (NOTICE 839 OF 2014 – CITY OF JOHANNESBURG BY-LAW ON PROBLEM PROPERTIES.

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