Make sure you always have a written lease

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown in SA, many tenants are facing financial hardship and having to move quickly because they can no longer afford the rent on their current home.

“Meanwhile, many cash-strapped home-owners are trying to let out any spare space they have to make ends meet,” says Gerhard Kotzé, MD of the RealNet estate agency group, “but whether you’re a tenant or a landlord in this situation, you should always make sure your rental agreement is in writing.

“This is not only a requirement of the Rental Housing Act, but the best way to avoid confusion or any future disputes about the terms of your rental agreement – especially if this was concluded in haste.”

He says landlords should also always run credit and reference checks on any prospective tenants – with their written permission, of course – before allowing them to take occupation of any part of their property. “Even if you really need the extra income, it is much better to turn someone with a poor credit profile or a poor payment record down at the start than to have to go through the time-consuming and costly process of evicting someone who has defaulted on your rent.  

“And to make things even easier, rather rent or let your home through a qualified and experienced managing agent affiliated to a reputable agency, who will be able to provide a standard written lease* that clearly sets out all the terms and conditions of your agreement, and all the rights and responsibilities of each party.”

If you are unable to do this, Kotzé advises, your lease document should at the very least contain the following information:

  • The contact details of both landlord and tenant, including their phone numbers and emergency numbers;
  • The address and description of the rental property;
  • Details of any deposit paid, the monthly rental amount and the proposed duration of the tenancy;
  • Landlord and tenant responsibilities and requirements with regard to maintenance and security, for example;
  • The procedures and notice required to cancel the lease or renew it; and
  • A list of existing property defects, compiled at a joint ingoing inspection of the rental property, and signed by both parties before the tenant takes occupation.

“For the sake of clarity, the lease should also detail what is to be done with the deposit a tenant pays. It should be kept in an interest-bearing bank account, for the benefit of the tenant, for the full duration of the tenancy.

“At the end of this period, the tenant will be owed the full deposit, as well as any interest earned. The cost of repairing any damage the tenant might have caused to the property can, however, be deducted, following an outgoing inspection attended by both the tenant and the landlord (or agent) within seven days of the end of the lease.”

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