The questions you MUST ask before signing a rental agreement

Moving into a rental is almost always regarded as a temporary arrangement, which often means that the tenant doesn’t pay too much attention to the ins and outs of the agreement and then gets caught off-guard when something goes wrong. 

“While the agent certainly has a responsibility in being 100% transparent about what the agreement entails, so to the tenant needs to ensure they ask the relevant questions and is absolutely clear on what both their rights and responsibilities are,” Harry van der Linde, Rentals Principal at Leapfrog Moretela Park, says. 

Here are five things tenants should pay attention to: 

Make sure you are clear on what the rental amount includes

When you, as a tenant, sign the lease agreement, make very sure you are aware of all the costs associated with renting the property. “The monthly rental is one thing, but there may be any number of other costs that are for the tenant’s account, including water, electricity, maintenance levies and more,” Van der Linde warns. Tenants should also be clear on any additional costs that there may be, such as the admin fee for drawing up the lease agreement, or the cost of getting keys cut or an access remote programmed for the property. 

It’s good practice to ask the agent about all the costs, what each is for, when it is payable and the percentage increases that can be expected year-on-year. 

What's the exit strategy?

Life happens, and so even if you signed a lease for 12 months, any number of things could necessitate you to get out of the lease earlier. 

“While it is always possible to get out of the lease agreement, it pays to be aware of the penalties that will be charged should the tenant want to vacate the property before the end of the lease period,” Van der Linde explains. In some cases the agreement would stipulate that the tenant automatically forfeits their security deposit, while in other cases the agent will charge the tenant an ‘early exit fee’ for breach of contract, while some agents only require that the tenant finds a suitable replacement in good time. 

A watertight rental contract will specify the course of action in case of such an event, but the onus is still on the tenant – the signatory on the contract – to ensure they’re familiar with this particular clause and to confirm the in’s and out’s verbally with the agent. 

Tenants also need to take note of the notice period, as stipulated in the lease agreement. “It is useful to bear in mind that the Consumer Protection Act does make provision for the tenant to terminate the agreement upon giving 20 business days’ notice, though the agent may then claim for any losses the landlord suffered,” Van der Linde explains. 

Can a maximum rent increase be negotiated?

‘Good’ tenants, ones who take care of the property and pay their rent on time, should be recognised for their conscientiousness and one of the best ways an agent can ‘reward’ a tenant is by keeping the annual rental increase reasonable and in line with both inflation and market trends. 

As the tenant it’s a good idea to ask if a maximum rent increase can be negotiated. “Agents want to keep good tenants happy and one of the best ways they can do that is by committing to a maximum rent increase over a set period of time,” Van der Linde says. 

A reasonable and fair agent usually won’t have a problem with committing to raise the rent by no more than say, 5 or 6% for the next 3 to 5 years if the tenant upholds their end of the bargain, i.e. paying on time and not causing unnecessary problems, Van der Linde believes. 

What is the property's maintenance history?

Maintenance history is useful to know because it gives you some indication of what might need to be done, or alert you to things that might cause hassles further down the line. 

“If the stove has been giving trouble for some months now, it’s very likely that, as the incoming tenant, you’ll experience more of the same. And while the contract will state the terms for the maintenance, the tenant is the one who will be inconvenienced, so it really just helps to know what’s what,” Van der Linde explains. Tenants should pay close attention at the ingoing inspection and raise matters that they notice or think might become a problem at a later stage and ask the agent to note it as such on the documentation, as all issues must be noted in writing. 

Ask for the agent's cell number 

An email address or the office number doesn’t help you if there is some property emergency in the middle of the night... think a burst geyser at 2:30am on Tuesday! 

“Make a point of asking the agent for his/her cellphone number if you don’t have it,” Van der Linde advises. “They’re your first point of contact for anything related to the property, and you don’t want to be left out in the cold in an emergency because you don’t have the number for the person whose job it is to help you. 

The bottom line for tenants is to make sure the lease agreement works in your favour too, Van der Linde says. “Just as the tenant is looking for a home, so too is the agent looking for a quality tenant for the landlord so it pays to try and ensure that all parties are satisfied and that tenants are well looked after,” he concludes. 

Click here for more Frequently Asked Questions on Rental Property


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