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Trouble-free rentals: tips for tenants

Under ideal circumstances, renting a property should be a smooth and hassle-free process, but unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan.

Disputes between rental agents, landlords and tenants are all too common, and can sour the rental experience for everyone involved. Thankfully, according to Bill Rawson, chairman of the Rawson Property Group, preventing this kind of situation as a tenant usually just requires a little bit of knowledge, planning and attention to detail.

Here are his tips for tenants, and a happy, headache-free rental.

Budget conservatively – The cost of living is on the rise, which means a rental at the edge of affordability now may become more than you can handle at a later date. It’s far better to budget conservatively and have some wiggle room, than to risk falling into arrears and facing potential eviction down the line.

“If you do find yourself in financial difficulty,” says Rawson, “it’s best to be honest with your landlord or letting agent, as they will be more likely to make allowances if they are aware of the situation.”

Read the fine print – All your rights and responsibilities as a tenant should be outlined in your lease agreement, so read it very carefully and make sure you understand everything it contains. Check notice periods, rent increase procedures, and any penalties or fees that may be levied, as well as rules of conduct, and any expenses like utilities that may be billed in addition to your rental.

If you’re unsure of the legalities, Rawson recommends talking to an objective professional rather than taking a chance.

“It’s generally easier – and less stressful – to avoid signing an unfair or illegal lease than it is to resolve any resulting disputes further down the line,” he says.

Check for red flags – It’s not always possible to talk to a previous tenant about the rental property you’re considering, so make sure you check for issues like water pressure and cellphone reception that might not be immediately obvious, but could be difficult to fix once you move in.

You should also keep an eye out for warning signs that could indicate bigger problems. A particularly run-down property, for example, might mean a landlord who habitually neglects his maintenance responsibilities.

“That’s not a good sign that future problems will be repaired appropriately,” Rawson says.

Insist on an incoming inspection – Make sure you conduct an incoming inspection with digital photographic evidence in the presence of your rental agent or landlord. The purpose of this inspection is to make a note of any pre-existing defects in the property – cracked tiles, damaged fittings, stains and so on – so that you can’t be held responsible for them at the end of your lease.

“Remember,” says Rawson, “your landlord isn’t obligated to fix these defects at this point, unless they directly affect your ability to use the property for its intended purpose. If there’s something seriously wrong, it’s better to note it early and specify in your lease agreement that it is to be repaired before you move in.”

Participate in the outgoing inspection – You’re far less likely to have uncalled for expenses deducted from your deposit if you’re present during the outgoing inspection conducted by your rental agent or landlord. Bring a copy of any defects listed on your incoming inspection, photographs and any relevant correspondence relating to repairs or maintenance issues that have arisen during your stay.

Know your rights – The Rental Housing Act recognises the right of property owners to receive reasonable returns on their investments, but obliges them to look after their properties and treat tenants fairly. From privacy, to the repayment of deposits, property maintenance and the Rental Housing Tribunal, this act outlines all the rights you have as a tenant.

“The best advice I can give a tenant,” says Rawson, “is to read the Rental Housing Act. This can be found on the www.info.gov.za.

“If you are still concerned about potential pitfalls, consider approaching a reputable rental agent rather than searching for a rental property independently. A good agent will be able to recommend a well-managed property that suits your particular needs, and you’ll be able to relax in the knowledge that the contracts and procedures comply with all the applicable legislation. A good rental is one that benefits landlord and tenant, and a capable rental agent can go a long way towards making that possible,” says Rawson.


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