Solving common disputes between landlords and tenants

Disputes can often occur between landlords and tenants due to disagreements about rent, disrepair, deposits and service charges.

According to David Rebe, chief executive of Sandak-Lewin Property Trust, with the correct guidance and rules in place, landlords and tenants need not reach the point where the negative consequences are suffered by both parties.

He says there are many options to consider when resolving property disputes, and offers some advice on the various possibilities.

Late payments -Tenants making late payments for rent is a common, but significant issue which landlords face. One way to manage late payment is to impose penalty charges for late payments, which will effectively cover the extra administration requirements, such as phone calls, follow ups and additional administrative work.

This penalty will however need to be stipulated in the lease agreement. If no penalty fee is charged, then there is no real consequence for not paying rent on time, and the tenant could make a habit of it.

In some cases landlords offer tenants a grace period for rent to be paid. However, this too should be stipulated in the lease agreement.

Damage or neglect of property – It is the tenant’s duty to report any damages made to the property to the landlord in due course. It is the landlord’s responsibility to conduct regular inspections of the property to ensure that damage to the property has been reported.

The lease agreement should include details on the various responsibilities of each party. For example, landlords are obligated to address any repairs that need to be made to the house granted that these specific repairs are outlined in the lease agreement. On the other hand, tenants have the responsibility to meet the terms and conditions of the property including maintenance of the property and abiding by noise restrictions.

If a property has been violated or damaged, a written warning should be issued, which will request that the tenant rectify the damage. If the tenant does not adhere to the request, the landlord can legally use the tenant’s deposit to pay for the costs associated with the damage.

However, if the damage is a result of wear and tear, the tenant will not be held liable for the replacement or upkeep of these items.

Noise complaints – Tenants can be noisy at times, and whether the noise is a result of home maintenance, moving furniture around, playing music loudly or from social gatherings, other tenants in the building may complain to the landlord about these disturbances. Should the complaints continue, and the tenant refuses to comply with the noise volume rules as set out by the body corporate or lease agreement, the landlord has the right to issue the tenant with a formal warning, and depending on the rules of the body corporate, possibly issue a fine. Should this behaviour continue there may be grounds for cancelling the lease – but this will depend on the clauses laid out in the lease agreement.

Wear and tear on property – The landlord is responsible for repairing damage to the property caused by general wear and tear, such as leaking roofs, plumbing and drain problems and damaged gutters. The landlord will also need to ensure that the property is maintained internally (windows and doors) and externally (roofs and gates). To avoid any potential disputes, tenants and landlords should inspect the property together before the tenant moves in, and make a detailed list of damaged items or areas in the property. When discussing damages and repairs, it is also advised that all requests are communicated in writing so that there is proof of the request and the conversation.

One way to avoid causing damage is to stay on top of regular maintenance issues as they arise, rather than allowing them to cause more problems.

Pest problems
– Pest infestations are a serious problem which many tenants face, especially in older buildings. Pest related issues are generally a landlord’s responsibility, as they need to ensure that the tenant is provided with healthy living conditions. It is however the tenant’s responsibility to report the problem to the landlord if and when it arises. Should a pest infestation occur due to the actions of the tenants, such as not emptying bins often enough, the cost will be for their account.

Landlord inspections – Tenants are entitled to privacy, and it is considered courtesy for the landlord to provide at least 24 hours’ notice when arranging inspections, repairs or routine maintenance. The tenant should be informed either by email or telephone.

In the interest of both parties, it is important for the landlord and tenant to have regular contact to ensure all issues are dealt with effectively, and that no misinterpretations intensify and worsen, leading to an unpleasant situation for both parties.

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