Tips and advice on choosing a tenant

Firstly, every prospective tenant should be thoroughly screened even before they view the property. “When advertising the property for rent, the landlord should be specific regarding the conditions of the rental agreement – such as no pets or smoking - and should stipulate that potential tenants will be thoroughly screened. This should significantly reduce the number of unsuitable applicants, as well as deter some unscrupulous characters. The landlord should also provide potential tenants with a detailed application form to be completed, requesting personal and employment details and contactable references, as well as supporting documents such as copies of IDs and salary slips. Once these have been received, a thorough screening is required including a credit check and a criminal background check, as well as contacting the references provided and verifying employment with the employer detailed on the salary slip,” suggests Goslett.


Once a suitable tenant has been verified and selected, a comprehensive and legally sound contract must be signed, which includes a pre-occupation inspection report - complete with photos - of the property conducted with the tenant, and very specific clauses detailing the tenant’s responsibilities in terms of the deposit, monthly rental, utility payments, maintenance and upkeep. These clauses should contain specific time frames as well as penalties that will apply if any of the conditions are breached.


“Landlords should also bear in mind that despite the lease agreement signed, they remain ultimately responsible. For example, even if tenants open their own water and electricity accounts with the municipality, the owner will be held ultimately responsible if the tenant does not pay these accounts. As such, landlords should minimise the risks posed by tenants in every possible way. Prepaid electricity and water meters, for example, will ensure that the landlord does not have to deal with a municipal account that is months in arrears. If prepaid meters can’t be installed, the landlord should at least insist on a deposit for the water and electricity,” says Goslett. 


Thereafter, the landlord should conduct monthly inspections, always respecting the tenant’s privacy by arranging a convenient time. Breaches of any stipulation in the lease agreement must also be addressed swiftly and strictly. “Many landlords do not address, for example, late or non-payments of rentals immediately according to the terms stipulated in the lease agreement. Within a few weeks they are stuck with a tenant that is two months behind on the rental and is running up a water and electricity account that may not be paid. Eventually the landlord is faced with no alternative than to institute expensive legal proceedings to evict the tenant. And this can be a long, expensive and very unpleasant experience, during which no income is earned from the property,” notes Goslett.


He advises landlords who don’t have the time or expertise to implement tight and ongoing management as discussed above, to consider consulting a professional rental management agent. “Reputable, experienced rental management agents will be able to fill vacancies quickly with the right tenants. They will also be up to date with the latest legal and regulatory developments to protect the landlord, and will have the expertise, resources, systems and procedures to manage tenants professionally to avoid any potential problems. If a problem with a tenant arises despite this professional approach, rental management agents also have access to the legal resources and experience to deal with it swiftly and efficiently,” says Goslett.


Strict management from the very beginning, and thorough ongoing management, are the solutions to tenant trials. “The rental management fee is a small investment for landlords compared to the benefits of finding and placing a reliable, responsible and thoroughly screened tenant, and managing this relationship professionally throughout the lease period for the mutual benefit of both the landlord and the tenant,” says Goslett. “It may well be the difference between landlords who have sad and sometime scary stories to tell, and those whose buy-to-let property investments are not only producing a regular and dependable income, but are growing in capital value through solid, professional management,” he concludes.



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