Renting your first property can be a daunting experience, especially when you read about all the things that could go wrong. It is important to do a bit of research before you decide to dive headfirst into a lease agreement without fully understanding your rights and obligations as a tenant.
The following questions are frequently asked by tenants and will hopefully answer some of the questions you might already have with regard to renting a property:
1. Is it necessary for me to sign a lease with my landlord?
A lease agreement is a contract between an Owner/Landlord/Lessor and their Tenant/Lessee whereby the lessor allows the tenant temporary use of his dwelling, in return for payment from the lessee, known as rent. A verbal lease is still considered a legally binding contract, although it is strongly recommended to draw up a written agreement so that both parties are 100% clear on their rights and obligations. If the landlord stipulates that a written lease agreement is required, you will be required to sign the agreement in order to move in to the property.
However, if you have been renting a property through a verbal agreement and your landlord then asks you to sign a written lease, you are not required to agree to any terms that were not included in your verbal agreement. The landlord will then be required to negotiate the terms of the new agreement to satisfy both parties.
2. What information should be in the lease?
Please refer to the article “Information on The Lease Agreement” in Property Power Magazine. You will also find a printable copy of a standard lease agreement on the disc included in the back of this magazine.
3. What happens if I have pets?
Many people don’t think to check whether or not a property is pet friendly, particularly when the property listing does not specify if pets are allowed or not. However, tenants who ask for their landlord’s permission before bringing pets onto the property and are prepared to make the extra effort are far more likely to receive a favourable outcome (for example, offering a slightly higher rental rate to accommodate your furry friends). It is also very important to take into consideration the needs of your pet when searching for a property to rent, for example, renting an apartment with no garden would not be a suitable for a dog, but would be suitable perhaps for smaller, caged animals.
Provide your landlord with as much information about your pet as possible; this background information could include things such as your pets breed, size, age, temperament, and any other details which could provide a context for your landlord on which to base their decision. The more information you can provide about your pets, the more likely your landlord will be to feel confident when renting to you.
If you and your landlord have agreed on the terms and conditions of you keeping a pet on the property, be sure to include everything agreed upon in writing in your lease agreement to avoid any disputes further down the line. Also keep in mind that if you choose not to inform your landlord about pets on the property, you run the risk of being in breach of your lease agreement and may be asked to re-home your pet or even face eviction.
4. Do I have to pay a deposit?
It depends on your lease agreement. If your lease agreement requires you to pay a deposit (usually equal to one month’s rent) then you will need to do so in order to occupy the premises. This applies to both verbal and written contracts. However, if a deposit was not stipulated in your agreement then your landlord may not ask you to pay a deposit at a later stage because this was not a part of your original agreement. Changes to a lease agreement are only valid when both parties agree to the new terms and conditions.
5. What happens to my deposit?
During the rental period, your letting agent or landlord must invest the deposit in an interest-bearing/trust account. At the end of your lease, the full deposit as well as the interest it has earned should be returned to you. The landlord is entitled to deduct any amount still owed to him as well as the cost of any damages you may have caused during your stay on the property. Please see the article on “Deposits Held by Landlords” in the Property Power Magazine.
6. Is my landlord allowed to withhold my deposit?
The purpose of a deposit is to reimburse the landlord for any outstanding money that is owed or to cover the costs of repairing any damage over and above “fair wear and tear”. If your landlord does withhold your deposit, he will need to supply you with proof of the repair costs he has incurred (e.g. receipts). If the repair costs amount to less than your deposit, your landlord must refund you the difference. If your landlord fails to supply you with proof then you may lodge a complaint with the Rental Housing Tribunal.
To avoid a situation like this, before you move in, it is a good idea to make an inspection of the property with your landlord. Together you can draw up a list of defects, signed by both parties, which will be included in your lease. You and your landlord must both re-inspect the property before you move out, using the same list of defects as a point of comparison. A printable list of defects, which can be attached to your lease, has been included on the disc in the back of this magazine. For more information about the Rental Housing Tribunal, please see the article in the Property Power Magazine.
7. Who is responsible to pay for municipal bills such as lights and water?
This depends entirely on your arrangement with your landlord and should be stipulated within the lease agreement.
8. Can my landlord increase my rent whenever he wants to?
No. Your verbal or written lease agreement should specify when the rent is due to increase and by how much it will increase. Generally speaking, your rent will be escalated on renewal of your lease. This will be included in the renewal terms of your lease agreement. If this has not been included in the lease agreement, then the landlord must negotiate the amount with you, neither party can make a change to the original agreement without consulting with the other party.
9. What do I do if my landlord says I didn’t pay my rent, but I did?
Always keep a record of your payments, for example your bank deposit slip. If you have paid your rent electronically, you can print out a proof of payment. You can also ask your landlord to provide you with a receipt if he does not automatically provide one with your payments. If you do not keep a record of your payments it will be very difficult to prove that you have in fact paid your rent, in which case your landlord will be able to give you notice as per the terms of your agreement and start the eviction process.
10. Can my landlord seize my possessions if I fail to pay my rent?
Not unless he has obtained a court order to do so, it is then up to the court to attach your property to the sum of your debt. If your landlord takes your possessions without following the legal procedure, he will be guilty of theft and you will need to contact the South African Police Service as well as lodging a complaint with the Rental Housing Tribunal.
11. Is my landlord allowed to enter the property without my permission?
You are not allowed to deny the landlord access to his property for routine inspections. However, your landlord needs to give you fair warning and set up a suitable appointment time before arriving to perform the inspection.
12. Can my landlord lock me out of the property?
No. If the locks have been changed for whatever reason (e.g. wear and tear), your landlord is required to provide you with a duplicate key immediately. There are no circumstances where your landlord is allowed to lock you out of the property.
13. What maintenance is my landlord expected to do?
This should be specified in your lease agreement. If it has not been specified in the lease agreement, this issue will need to be negotiated with your landlord.
14. What can I do if my landlord does not maintain the things we agreed upon in the lease?
You will need to lodge a complaint with the Rental Housing Tribunal.