Tenant behaviour is a landlord’s responsibility

When tenants cause ructions, the question is often asked who is held responsible for the bad behaviour: the tenant, the landlord, or the agent who lets out the rental property on the landlord’s behalf.

“While rental agents are often blamed for the poor conduct of the tenants they place, ultimately a tenant’s behaviour is the landlord’s responsibility,” says Sheree Peach, Residential Rentals Manager at Renprop. “Landlords carry the liability for their tenant’s actions according to the Sectional Titles Act 95 of 1986.”

She says that this once again highlights the importance of working with a professional rental agent who is able to implement the level of strict screening that should take place when a tenant is being selected in order to avoid the headache of dealing with problem or unruly tenants down the line.

Peach points out that a professional rental agent should be able to qualify any potential tenants against strict selection criteria. “This includes screening the tenant’s past behaviour and propensity to be unruly, aside from credit vetting them to ensure they are able to afford the monthly rental amount. At Renprop, tenant screening entails a behavioural analysis to ensure that only those applicants who are suited to the property and complex or estate are qualified.” She also notes that all a tenant’s references should be checked and contacted in an effort to ascertain any patterns of unwanted behaviour.

Peach says that as many rental units fall within sectional title complexes or residential estates, a professional rental agent should present a copy of the body corporate or estate rules to the tenant when they sign their lease and ensure that it is signed in acceptance by the tenant, which makes the regulation of behaviour that much easier. “But at the end of the day, the landlord, as the owner of the property, is still held liable for any undesirable behaviour by their tenants.”

Peach highlights that in the case of a sectional title complex and many residential estates, the trustees or home owners association are entitled to impose fines or administration fees for bad behaviour by tenants where the rules of the sectional title scheme or residential estate have been contravened. These fees are passed onto the property owner on their levy account. “In addition, should a tenant cause damage to any common property, the landlord will be held liable for the cost of replacement or repair,” she says.

While it is impossible to predict whether or not a tenant is going to misbehave, a comprehensive tenant screening will definitely minimise the risk. “As the onus falls on the landlord to manage the behaviour of their tenants, and ongoing unwanted behaviour will result in the termination of the lease which is a tedious process that landlords should rather try to avoid at all costs, prevention is better than cure in this case.”

Aside from ensuring that prospective tenants are properly vetted, Peach says that landlords are also strongly advised to ensure that their lease agreements have been properly drafted by an expert in the residential rental field. “The value of a reputable rental agent cannot be emphasised enough. Professional rental agents will have access to leases which have been drafted by attorneys who are familiar with the Rental Housing Act and each party’s rights, and can therefore take all necessary measures to ensure the landlords they represent are as protected as possible,” she concludes.

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