Sound advice for tenants

Carol Reynolds, Pam Golding Properties (PGP) area principal for the Durban North and La Lucia areas in KwaZulu-Natal says that although landlords are understandably focused on finding good, reliable tenants for their properties, tenants are also looking for properties where landlords are concerned with maintaining the property.

Maintaining the property from the landlords perspective ensures that the property retains its long-term value, tenants tend to stay longer and the property remains a valuable asset. Future tenants should not rent from a landlord who is only concerned with collecting the rent without investing in maintaining the property.

Reynolds says when looking to rent a property there are a number of questions that the prospective tenant should raise before signing the lease. Find out when the last tenant moved, and if the landlord intends selling  the property within the next 12 months – if so this means the there will be prospective buyers viewing the home and possibly even show days held, coupled with the cost of moving again in 12 months.

“Ask the landlord how much of the monthly rental income goes towards maintenance, both short and long term, and what maintenance they are prepared to carry out before the tenant takes occupation. Remember, if as a tenant you require that specific work be carried out on the property this must be stipulated on the lease for it to be legally binding.

“Remember to check if the oven/stove works and if it’s a freestanding stove, will it remain, and test the toilets and water pressure, look for damp or mould as this could pose health problems, and enquire who will service the air conditioners. Ask for a list of preferred contractors who service the property – in this way you get a contractor who knows the property and is trusted by the owner,” she says.

If there is an alarm system find out who the alarm system is contracted to, what the monthly instalment is and whether it remains when the tenant vacates. View cupboard interiors – with the current tenant’s permission if they are present, or ask the agent for photographs of the cupboard interiors to ensure you will have adequate storage. Ask the current tenant why they are moving and if they have had any maintenance issues, and drive around the neighbourhood during the day and at night to see what the lighting and security is like.

“Don’t hesitate to ask the agent for a second viewing if you have concerns or cannot remember something important about the property as it could make the difference between living comfortably for the lease term or not. Look out for potential problems such as a green swimming pool – meaning that the equipment may not work properly; exterior lights that do not work at night; lots of electrical cabling from adaptors, which usually means a shortage of plug points; missing gutters or fascia boards, as tenants are required to clean gutters but not repair or replace broken ones; and automatic gates, garage doors or intercoms that don’t function properly,” says Reynolds.

She says often tenants assume that the inspection list, which is compiled by the agent, also referred to as the defect list, is a list of maintenance to be done. “This is not so, it is merely a record of the condition of the premises when the tenant takes occupation. The landlord is under no obligation to carry out any repairs and can do so at his discretion unless it is a condition of the lease.

Tenants also need to read the contract and know what their obligations are. For example, the tenant is required to change light bulbs, attend to general maintenance such as leaking taps that require washers and plumbing (eg blocked pipes), however many plead ignorance and expect the landlord to attend to this. In addition, a tenant cannot decide to try to force the landlord to comply with their wishes by withholding rent. It is a condition in most standard lease agreements that rent cannot be withheld for any reason, and the tenant will be in breach of contract if this is the case. The tenant can request to be released from the contract if an amicable solution cannot be found, or take legal action if the maintenance terms were part of the lease agreement and the landlord failed to comply.”

Another contentious issue is often in regard to the return of the deposit – and interest earned on that deposit. The Rental Housing Act states that the deposit and interest earned on it may be used to pay amounts for which the tenant is liable, including the reasonable cost of repairing any damage during the lease period and the cost of replacing lost keys. The balance of deposit and interest must then be refunded to the tenant by the landlord no later than 14 days after the end of the lease period and the tenant should be able to see receipts as proof of such costs incurred. If there are no amounts due to the landlord in terms of the lease then the deposit, together with any accrued interest on this must be refunded to the tenant within seven days of expiry of the lease.

The tenant is obligated to hand over the property in its pre-occupation condition, with fair wear and tear excepted. In other words one would need to remove picture hooks, fill the holes, restore the surface to a smooth finish and paint the entire wall surface so that there are no patches or unmatched areas. Carpets that are stained, burnt or retain animal smells should be replaced by the tenant if they cannot be returned to their original condition.

“Tenants also have a right to privacy and the landlord cannot use his or her spare key to access the property without the tenant’s permission, as this would be considered trespassing.  An exception could be if there is an emergency such as a burst geyser or water pipe, then an unannounced visit would be acceptable,” adds Reynolds.
“The landlord may only exercise his or her right of inspection in a reasonable manner after reasonable notice to the tenant. The tenant’s rights include not having his or her home, person, or property searched, or possessions seized (unless a court order is obtained and it is in terms of the law), nor should the privacy of the tenant’s communications be infringed.”

“Unfortunately, disputes between tenant and landlord are common, and this is why it is always advisable to employ the services of a reputable rental agent to oversee and manage the lease and to intervene to resolve any potential disputes. An agent acts as an impartial professional third party, who can lend an objective ear and offer solid advice to resolve issues before they become personal. As a last resort, the Rental Tribunal can be approached to settle any disputes. For the most part, the agent will facilitate the resolution of any disputes and assist in finding an amicable solution that is fair and reasonable without prejudice to either party. The first step is always to comply with the terms of the agreement, and act accordingly, so both landlords and tenants should be mindful of the contract terms before the lease commences.”

Most of us start out in rentals and knowing what your, as well as the landlord’s rights, are will ensure that you have a hassle-free experience.

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