Landlord from hell

2015-02-17 08:00

Sometimes, due to financial constraints or the fact that you may relocate again in the short to medium term, it may make more sense to rent rather than buy. If you do, you should know you have legal rights as a tenant – and landlords don’t call all the shots, writes Neesa Moodley

When Thandi moved to Cape Town, she decided to rent for a year. She was still finding her feet and figuring out where she wanted to buy property.

Her first impression of the landlord, Brian, was a good one.

He was friendly, open and would be living abroad for a year, so the agreement seemed perfect. However, when the lease expired a year later, she suddenly found herself dealing with his snooty new wife. What had promised to be a no-fuss rental agreement turned into a nightmare.

“His wife complained about normal wear and tear on the house, and tried to hold back our rental deposit without justification. She was also incredibly rude when I pointed out that we were entitled to a refund of our deposit with interest. If I ever rent again, it will be through a rental agency,” she says.

The first thing you need to know as a tenant is that the process is governed by the Rental Housing Act. This means there is legislation in place designed to protect both you and the landlord if your agreement goes south.

One of the sticky points associated with renting is your deposit. The act is quite clear about how this deposit must be handled when your lease expires and you have vacated the rental property.

One of the first things to note is you should carry out a property inspection, with the landlord and/or estate agent, before you sign the rental agreement.

This means the two of you physically go through the property, room by room, making written notes about the condition of the property.

Take note of any marks on the walls, fixtures that are broken, fittings in the room and any defects.

To protect yourself as a tenant, you should take photos of each room and attach these to the pre-inspection report so that you have visual evidence if there are any disputes when you end your rental agreement.

When your lease expires, you and the landlord and/or estate agent have to carry out a second inspection to ascertain if there are any damages or repairs that you, the tenant, may be held liable for.

This is where the initial preinspection report becomes important, as it provides proof of any existing damage before you moved into the property.

The final inspection before you vacate should take place at least three days before your lease expires. Many tenants are unaware that if the landlord fails to attend the final inspection, he loses the right to claim repairs against your deposit.

Thandi says: “The landlady in my case was not available for the inspection, and refused to provide any invoices for the repairs she claimed she had to carry out. She eventually returned my deposit two to three months after I vacated the property.”

Under the act, your landlord is obliged to return your rental deposit within seven days of you vacating the property, provided there are no damage claims and you do not owe any outstanding rent or payments for water or electricity.

If there are damages you can be held liable for, the landlord must provide you with written proof of the cost of repairs and, after deducting these amounts from your deposit, must refund you the remainder of your deposit within 14 days of your vacating the property.

Note, however, that if you are not present at the final, joint inspection of the property, the landlord has 21 days from the date the rental lease expires to carry out any repairs required and refund you the balance of your deposit.

Thandi was correct when she told her landlady she was entitled to the return of her deposit with interest. The act clearly states a landlord must invest your deposit in an interest-bearing account and you have the right to request written proof of the interest accruing on your deposit.

If you rent through a rental agency, check your lease agreement carefully to see if it includes any reference to interest on the deposit. You can request a clause to state that interest on the deposit will be paid to you and you can also include the rate of interest to be expected.

Your written rental lease should include the following information:

» The address of the property being leased.

» The amount for which you will rent it.

» The amount by which the rent will increase – for example, by 10% – when renewing the lease.

» When the rent will increase. For example, if there is a rates increase, or on an annual basis.

» How often rent is to be paid.

» The amount of the deposit, if any.

» Your and your landlord’s obligations. This is an important detail you should agree to in writing upfront in the rental agreement. For example, who is responsible for maintenance? Who will pay the water, electricity and rates bills? Usually, the tenant pays for charges related to consumption, such as water and electricity, and the landlord pays for charges related to the property, such as rates.

» The conditions under which either you or your landlord can give notice to cancel the contract. For example, if specific maintenance is not carried out, or if you are in arrears with the rent. There should also be a clause stating the notice period to cancel the contract. For example, either a one-month notice period (30 days) or even two months’ notice, which gives the landlord sufficient time to find a new tenant.

» The house rules, signed by both of you, should be attached to the lease.

» A list of defects, drawn up at a joint inspection when you move in, and signed by both of you, must also be attached to the lease.

There are rental housing tribunals in each province you can approach to resolve disputes between tenants and landlords:

Western Cape: 0860 106 166 or 021 483 4190

KwaZulu-Natal:031 336 5300/336 5226

Gauteng: 011 355 4000

North West: 018 387 6052

Limpopo: 015 295 6851

Eastern Cape: 040 639 1769

Northern Cape: 053 830 9544

Mpumalanga: 013 766 6200

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