Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mould kills celebrity couple

Introduction
 

Bricks and mortar provide us with protection from an increasingly harsh environment. But what if your haven of safety - your home, could unknowingly be causing you harm?

Although a patch of mould may seem harmless as it first spreads into view, it can invade far more than the musty corners of a room. In fact, it poses a very real threat to human health. In 2009, a celebrity couple died only months apart, both from pneumonia and anaemia which was reported to have been a result of the extensive mould found in their Los Angeles mansion.

What is mould exactly?

Mould is a type of fungus which causes the breakdown of various natural materials. Not all mould is bad however, it is actually highly beneficial in the production of antibiotics - the mould Penicillium naturally produces penicillin which has saved an estimated 200 million lives.
It can also be the very cause of disease due to one of three reasons: an allergic reaction to mould spores; the growth of pathogenic moulds in the body or toxic mould compounds called ‘mycotoxins’ being ingested or inhaled.

What symptoms result from mould exposure?

Studies in 2003 of more than 1600 patients who suffered from health issues as a result of exposure to mould, experienced a range of symptoms: muscle and joint pain; headaches; anxiety; memory loss and visual disturbances; immune system disruptions, fatigue; digestive issues and shortness of breath.[i]

A mould allergy can cause itchy watery eyes, constant coughing, headaches or migraines, rashes, tiredness, sneezing and sinus problems.[ii]

An analysis of mould and mental health conducted in Europe and published in the American Journal of Public Health has concluded that ‘the risk for depression went up by 40% among people who lived in mouldy homes.’[iii]

The extent to which mould affects someone’s health is dependent on the type of mould and the amount of mould present, the individual’s sensitivity to mould and their existing state of health.

TPN attorneys dealt with a serious case of mould in 2011 where a family rented a property in the suburb of Brooklyn in Pretoria: “It was a stately home built in the late 1970’s with fantastic wooden floors and pressed ceilings. From the moving date, the family loved the archaic monument yet something was amiss. The mother suddenly became very ill. No one had an answer to her seemingly incurable ailment no matter how many doctors were consulted. It was only on the second biopsy that it was noted that mould spores were present in her lungs. The family immediately moved out of the property and a team equipped with white Hazchem suits, breathing apparatus and testing equipment was sent to inspect the property thoroughly.
 
What they found was disturbing to say the least. With older, water-damaged properties, mould can flourish almost everywhere. While most are harmless to humans, in some cases if the spores are inhaled, it can cause major illness. These types of mould are so dangerous that they can cause irreparable harm to your person and even death. Studies show that mould or spore exposure is actually more dangerous than intense exposure to heavy metals.
 
In this instance, due to the property being inhabitable, the tenants were released from their agreement without penalty or fault and the property was thoroughly examined, cleaned and revisited to ensure its viability for safe habitation. We are certain there are thousands of properties around South Africa that face similar if not worse mould problems.”

What types of moulds are there?

Allergenic moulds produce life-threatening effects and are problematic if you are allergic or asthmatic.

Pathogenic moulds produce an infection if someone has a compromised immune system. The mould can grow in the lungs of an immune-compromised person and cause an acute response similar to bacterial pneumonia.

Toxigenic moulds can have serious health effects. Mycotoxins are the chemical toxins found on the surface of the mould spore which is inhaled, touched or ingested. It can cause a suppression of the immune system and even cancer.[iv]

The 5 most common indoor moulds

  • Alternaria: found in your nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract which can cause allergic reactions.
  • Aspergillus: found in warm, damp climates; produces mycotoxins and can cause lung infections.
  • Cladosporium: mostly found outdoors but it can find its way indoors onto tiles, wood and damp materials; it causes hay fever and asthma.
  • Penicillium: Found on wallpaper, fabrics, carpets and fibreglass insulation. It causes allergies and asthma, some species produce mycotoxins such as penicillin.
  • Stachybotrys: often referred to as ‘black mould’ produces mycotoxins that cause serious breathing difficulties and bleeding of the lungs. It is found on wood or paper products but not on concrete or tiles.[v]

 

What causes it to grow in the first place?

Mould requires moisture and warmth to grow and is often found in damp, warm areas. It can enter a home through windows, vents, doorways and air-conditioning systems. It attaches itself to clothing, linen, pets and surfaces.

The most common places mould can be found are on the roof; windows; pipes; tiles; wood; wallpaper; insulation; carpets and upholstery - on any surface that it can decompose.[vi]

 

How can I protect my property?

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the following to avoid a mould problem:
  • Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier when humidity is high.
  • Ensure your home is properly ventilated.
  • Mix mould inhibitors into the paint you use on surfaces around the property.
  • Clean the bathroom and kitchen with products that kill mould and mould spores.
  • Keep your kitchen and any dark, damp room carpet-free.
  • Replace upholstery that has been exposed to moisture as soon as possible, or at least remove it.

Conclusion:

Naturally, besides the preventative measures outlined - it is imperative to ensure that a property is well-maintained at all times. One of the most important aspects is the early detection and rectification of any underlying sources of damp, such as floods or leaks.

The TPN LeasePack Residential lease agreement provides that the tenants must timeously complete any repair work for which they are responsible, for example: erecting a washing line in the bathroom without proper ventilation with the resultant continuous damp causing a growing mould problem.

If the tenant discovers that maintenance or repair work needs to be done for which they are not responsible, for example: where the growth of mould is a result of fair wear and tear, the tenant must inform the landlord in writing as soon as is reasonably possible. If the tenant fails to do so, the landlord is entitled to claim damages for the repairs from the tenant.  In this way, the landlord is protected from discovering that a massive mould issue has suddenly sprouted before it develops into a serious health risk.

[i] Why Almost All Sinus Infections Are Misdiagnosed and Mistreated, 10 Sep 2011, DrMercola.com
[ii]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mold
[iii] Mould May Make You Depressed, 31 Aug 2007, health24.com
[iv] Why Almost All Sinus Infections Are Misdiagnosed and Mistreated, 10 Sep 2011, DrMercola.com
[v] Why Almost All Sinus Infections Are Misdiagnosed and Mistreated, 10 Sep 2011, DrMercola.com
[vi] Is that Mold in your Home Toxic, 22 Jan 2015, health24.com

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Courts instructs Body Corporate to disconnect utilities

Who can turn the lights off?

In this instance, the answer is not Eskom! Up to this point, the only approach to collecting arrear levies and utilities in sectional title schemes has been to follow the laborious debt collection process and wait your turn. Judgments and more importantly, attachments can take years to be effected! This could all but sink a body corporate … until now.

In the time it takes to get a Judgment, arrear levies can increase exponentially. In the past, a body corporate could not disconnect utilities when faced with the prolonged non-payment of utility accounts. Together, Michelle Dickens - MD of TPN Credit Bureau and Peter Mennen an associate at SSLR Inc., have had a major breakthrough in the Courts however!

Dickens and Mennen launched an application in the South Gauteng High Court last week. The application involved a claim for the full amount of R67 937.58 which was owed to the body corporate. It included a claim that should the owners not settle the debt immediately and in full, the body corporate could mandate contractors to terminate the electricity and restrict the water supply to the premises.

The application was heard on 11 November 2015 with the Court finding in favour of the body corporate and ordering the immediate payment of all arrear amounts. More importantly, the Court held that a contractor could be appointed to disconnect the electricity should the payment of the outstanding electricity bill not be made in full. As for the other utilities, the body corporate was authorised to limit the water supply to 6 kiloliters per month unless payment was received in full.

Judge Mailula was definitive in his ruling. He held that for juristic entities and individuals, the argument that the supply of utilities should be subsidised where the occupant refuses to make payment of amounts legitimately owed was without merit. This means that no body corporate or individual can be expected to subsidise the utility supply where the occupant is required to refund the owner or the body corporate for their usage. The Judgement therefore gives owners and body corporates the power to mitigate damages and collect outstanding amounts more expediently.

As Ms Dickens clarifies, “In a predominantly consumer driven environment where the tenant has been granted ample protection, the Courts are finally starting to take cognisance of economic realities and starting to also consider the needs of landlords, agents and body corporates. The true impact of this judgment lies in the fact that not only can the body corporate immediately disconnect the utility supply in order to mitigate its’ damages, it can immediately issue a Warrant of Execution in respect of the outstanding amounts.”

Mennen reminds the readers, “It is essential to remember that a Court order is always required before any utilities may be disconnected or restricted. This is regardless of whether the property in question is a commercial, retail or a residential property.”

Please click here to read the Judgement

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Race, Religion and Landlords

At the heart of being a landlord is the drive to secure a quality tenant who takes care of your property and pays the rent. Realistically, these quality tenants come in all shapes and sizes. When it comes to mapping tenants, according to Stats SA, 76% are black, 8% are coloured, 3% are Indian and 13% are white. TPN Credit Bureau’s data also shows that 15% of tenants currently renting in South Africa are foreign nationals.

Given that there is an oversupply of tenants hunting for accommodation, landlords should be in the pound seat right now. In reality, however, quality tenants are scarce and finding one can often be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. It therefore stands to reason that any form of discrimination on the part of a landlord will only make the search that much harder.

Unfortunately, the reality is that there are still limited instances of discrimination by landlords against tenants. Fortunately, the Rental Housing Act prohibits the rejection of tenants on the basis of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. All estate agents and landlords (whether they have big rental portfolios or rent out only a single property) are obliged to comply with the provisions of the Rental Housing Act and any tenant who has been subjected to discrimination of any kind should lodge a complaint with the Rental Housing Tribunal.

Michelle Dickens, managing director of TPN Credit Bureau comments that, “age and gender play no role in determining the payment behaviour of the tenant. Higher risk indicators include self-employed tenants and tenants who refuse to provide any verifying documentation.  Student accommodation also is riskier where the student alone signs the lease agreement, but TPN’s data shows that when a parent co-signs a lease agreement this significantly increases the timeous and full collection of rent.” TPN’s data also shows that foreign tenants may be slightly more risky, but they should not be excluded purely because they are not South African citizens. One of TPN’s largest clients has a rental portfolio of over 4,500 tenants, of which 35% are foreign tenants. Currently, over 98% of this client’s tenants pay their rent on time, proving that if they check all of the correct boxes, foreign tenants may be just the quality tenant that the landlord is looking for.

What can a landlord take into account when approving or rejecting a potential tenant?

  • FICA requirements – an estate agent must, by law, obtain the potential tenant’s ID or passport documents, proof of address and proof of the income tax number of the potential tenant;
  • Immigration Act requirements - current documentation proving that the tenant is legally allowed to be in South Africa;
  • Credit profile history, bearing in mind that consent must be obtained before this information is accessed;
  • Verification of bank account information; and
  • Affordability assessment, by means of payslips and bank statements.
When a landlord or estate agent insists on the above information and documentation, tenants should not feel that their rights are being compromised in any way. Rather, they should understand that the landlord or estate agent is being diligent in ensuring that the tenant will actually be able to fulfil their obligations in terms of the lease. Making sure that everything is in order in the beginning will ultimately prevent problems arising down the line for both parties.

What things should the landlord not take into account when approving or rejecting a potential tenant?

  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Sexual Orientation;
  • Nationality;
  • Marital Status;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Medical history; and
  • Political beliefs.
Rejecting a potential tenant based on the above criteria will amount to discrimination. This is clearly reflected in all current legislation in South Africa relating to rentals, including the Rental Housing Act and the National Credit Act.
 
Dickens sums it up succinctly, “unfortunately, there is still some discrimination in the rental industry when it comes to race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation and other factors that should never come into play when considering a potential tenant . What is apparent though is that the majority of landlords and estate agents are moving in the right direction and realising that the rejection of potential tenants must be based on objective criteria and not on subjective bias.”  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cancellation clause keeps criminals in check

A truly shocking case of sexual assault and genital mutilation has been uncovered by the Hawks in Bloemfontein this week. TPN came to know of this horrific story when we received a call from the TPN member managing the rental property in which the brutal crimes were committed just as the reports started flooding the media. Understandably, the owners of the townhouse wanted the occupants out of their property as soon as possible and urgently needed legal advice.

The Danish man, who was renting in Langenhoven Park, appeared in front of the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on charges of sexual assault after the Hawks found the parts of 21 different female genitalia in his freezer which he is said to have kept as ‘trophies.’ Police also confiscated surgical equipment and anaesthetic medication contravening the Medicines and Related Substances Act. He is suspected to have sedated his victims before performing illegal surgeries but police still have to determine how many victims there were and whether they are still alive.

Fortunately for the owners of the property, they are protected by their lease agreement for an eventuality such as this. As bizarre as it may seem to expect crimes of this nature to be committed in your property, it is better to be prepared for the very worst of scenarios than to be left without recourse. Thankfully, the TPN lease agreement (www.leasepack.co.za) signed in this instance contains a clause allowing the landlord to cancel the lease on 7 days’ notice should the landlord become aware that the tenant is conducting any kind of criminal activity from the premises.

It is difficult to see any light in disturbing criminal activity where multiple victims and their families have been affected. The only positives are that the authorities have put a stop to the crimes being committed - and for the property owner, the lease agreement can be cancelled regardless of the outcome of the bail application.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ever wondered why certain clauses are in a lease or sale agreement - "ASK TPN"

In our role as South Africa’s only tenant behaviour and rental payment profile credit bureau, TPN has been privy to the most wild and outlandish tenant-landlord disputes. Tenants “borrowing keys to measure for curtains” and simply moving in with no lease agreement in place, tenants signing lease agreements and never moving in, or tenants who change the terms of a verbal lease agreement to payment in arrears instead of payment in advance. Tenants who undertake DIY projects and spray paint carpets luminous blue.

A quality written lease agreement will prevent most tenant-landlord disputes. In 2011 TPN developed and released a set of standardised lease agreements, mandates, application documents, inspection documents and many additional essential property rental documents neatly packaged in a LeasePack which our members, landlords and estate agents, can buy and download for their use. The attractiveness of the LeasePack are the documents are updated on a regular basis meaning the TPN members always have access to the most up-to-date property rental and sales documentation.

In reality, many tenants and an alarming number of landlords simply sign the lease agreement presented to them without either reading or understating the terms of the agreement they are binding themselves to.
It is hardly unexpected when tenants and landlords inadvertently breach the lease agreement simply because of not fully understanding their own obligations.

Could it be that legal documents can be overwhelming, and unless you have a law degree it is impossible to know each piece of legislation that applies to the lease agreement: Consumer Protection Act, National Credit Act, Rental Housing Act, Unfair Practices Regulations and the Estate Agent Affair Act to name a few.

In our dealings with hundreds of thousands of tenants, TPN sat up and took notice; we have developed an “Ask TPN” website which is hyperlinked to all pertinent clauses of the lease agreement. This means tenants, landlords or the rental agent can click on the “Ask TPN” hyperlink on each clause of the lease agreement which will open the TPN WIKI website with a short explanation of the clause, including which piece of legislation is relevant to that clause.

“Ask TPN” levels the playing field for both tenant and landlord as all parties are now privy to the meaning, importance and legislation behind the terms of their tenant-landlord relationship.

TPN is pleased to announce "Ask TPN" has been translated for our Afrikaans LeasePack members.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Expunging Criminal Records for Minor Offences

Many of our wildest moments can be attributed to the recklessness of youth. When a mistake ends in a criminal record however, it can impact every area of your life for the rest of your life!
 
A criminal record often means that the punishment for the crime lasts far longer than a court of law intended. This is particularly severe in the case of minor offences where a person is limited in terms of international travel, immigration or employment.
 
TPN statistics show that a high number of job applicants who have been criminally vetted have had some kind of brush with the law. In a recent case, an employer unknowingly employed a convicted murderer in a position that involved visiting people’s homes! Of course not all cases are quite that severe, but the fact remains: what are you doing to protect your brand? Many of our rental agents are entrusted with cash in the form of rent or deposits, as employers what steps have we taken to verify against previous convictions for theft?
 
Schools and Pre-Schools take note!
 
It is a legal obligation that anyone working with children has to be criminally checked and checked against the sexual offence register.

Warning! Admission of guilt fine for petty crimes leads to a criminal conviction. 


Thousands of people have criminal records as a result of having paid admission of guilt fines for petty crimes. Recently in the Western Cape, a Magistrate criticised police for fast-tracking cases and securing a release by not explaining to detainees that an admission of guilt fine would result in a criminal record. These criminal records often go unnoticed until the person applies for a job, a travel visa or finance. More often than not, detainees are under the impression that an admission of guilt fine was paid as bail.
 
The same Magistrate referred a judgment to the Western Cape High Court for review recommending that the arrest for possession of dagga of 19 year old, Dane Houtzamer be set aside. Dane’s father was told by Police that he needed to pay R200 to get his son released. In August 2014, his father brought the issue before the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court bringing to the court’s attention the fact that the consequences of paying the R200 - a criminal record - had not been explained by the police. The High Court Judge ruled that Houtzamer’s conviction be expunged from the criminal record book and that the R200 be refunded. He also suggested that a possible alternative in administering admission of guilt fines would be to stipulate that a fine could not be paid until a period of time had lapsed.
 
Further examples of petty crimes where an accused can pay an admission of guilt fine and so secure their release are: common assault; drunk driving; possession of a small quantity of drugs and shoplifting.
 

Categories of Criminal Records which can be expunged


A criminal record can be expunged or erased from the National Criminal Register. The categories under which a criminal record can be expunged are:
 
1. Minor Offences - this is only applicable where:
  • The offence is categorised as minor by the type of sentence the court imposed.
  • The date of the conviction was 10 years ago;
  • There has not been another conviction for which they were sentenced to imprisonment without the option of a fine.
This does not apply to convictions of sexual offences against children where an offender’s name has been included in the National Register for Sex Offenders or the National Child Protection Register. If the victim was mentally disabled, it disqualifies a person from having their criminal record expunged.
 
2. Apartheid Offences -
 
A person who was convicted of an offence under ‘Apartheid’ legislation can apply for their criminal record to be expunged if this was not done automatically by the head of the Criminal Record Centre.
 
3. Race Related Offences - this is applicable where:
  • The offence was based on race.
  • The offence would not be regarded as an offence in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom under a democratic constitution.
4. Juvenile Offences -
 
Where a child was convicted of an offence listed in Section 87 of The Child Justice Act as either Schedule 1 or Schedule 2, the criminal record of that child must be expunged after 5 years in the case of Schedule 1 offences, or after 10 years in the case of Schedule 2 offences. This does not apply if the child has been convicted of a similar or more serious offence during the time period.
 
Child Sex Legalised
 
In 2013 the Constitutional Court declared 2 sections of the Criminal Law Amendment Act invalid. This means that, now:
  • Children between 12 and 16 are not held criminally liable for engaging in consensual sexual acts with each other.
  • Presiding officers are given the discretion to decide in individual cases whether the particulars of children should be included in the National Register for Sex Offenders.
  • Children who were convicted for having engaged in consensual sexual acts can now be removed from the National Register for Sex Offenders.

How to Apply for Expungement of a Criminal Record


An application for the expungement of a criminal record must be made to the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. This is done by submitting an application form under one of the applicable categories.
If the applicant complies with the necessary requirements, the Director-General will issue a certificate of expungement which is submitted to the Criminal Record Centre. The certificate serves as authority for the centre to erase the criminal record. 
 

Conclusion - TPN Verified Employment Database



Naturally it is vitally important for employers to have access to all current and relevant information available on a potential employee, criminal checks included. TPN is able to assist with criminal checks on prospective employees as a starting point.

TPN has further developed a centralised database called StaffSure which consists of verified employment data collected directly from our members.

Added to a criminal check, a TPN StaffSure enquiry provides detailed verified employment history including:
  • previous positions held;
  • periods of employment;
  • reasons for termination; and
  • HR contact details for reference purposes.

TPN combines our verified employment database (Staffsure) with TransUnion, Experian and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, as well as checking all qualifications - TPN Staffsure is able to provide a truly comprehensive report on prospective employees. This allows employers to clearly distinguish between applicants who could become a liability to their organisation and those who deserve a second chance!