Irrespective of whether a tenant is new to the market place or has rented a property before, it is crucial for them to empower themselves with information to avoid unscrupulous rental agents and landlords and confidently speak up regarding their rights, says Grant Rea, RE/MAX Living Rental Specialist.
"If a tenant understands their rights they will be able to ensure that they are being treated fairly and have a landlord or agent oblige to reasonable requests as they pertain to the tenancy,” says Rea. “As a rental agent I have heard of landlords and agents alike who simply do not treat tenants in a way befitting the law or standard practice. However, many tenants are unaware of where they stand in terms of the law so do nothing."
Rea provides his top tips to assist tenants to confidently avoid dodgy landlords and agents or to gain compliance from a party falling short of the law:
Credit and personal information - Tenants must remember that their landlord or rental agent may reasonably ask them to complete an application process, however, access to their credit information and personal information is only allowed with express permission. It should be noted that this information needs to be securely stored and may not be shared with third parties.
Lease agreements – A tenant can insist that their lease be in writing. “In fact,” says Rea, “I strongly suggest that tenants get their lease agreements reduced to writing so that all obligations of all parties are recorded. The tenant is within their rights to insist that the document is signed before handing over any monies.”
Deposit – The tenant can insist that the deposit they pay is placed into a third party trust account like that of an attorney or rental agent. Rea says that the tenant may demand at any time that the landlord or agent verify that the deposit is held in at least a savings account with interest accruing on the tenant’s behalf and a statement of the total.
Property Inspection - It is a requirement by law that the landlord or rental agent, jointly inspect the property with the tenant on commencement of the lease for a record to be made of the condition. If the landlord or the rental agent fails to do so, a tenant should make their own record using photographic and/or video evidence. Rea says that it is important to bear in mind that the landlord or agent is only obliged to make repair to items which render the property uninhabitable or hinder ‘reasonable’ day to day use of the property
Utilities – The tenant has the right to ask for original copies of utility accounts and actual readings for utilities such as electricity and water and a receipt for payment thereof.
Access to the property – A tenant has the right to unhindered enjoyment of the property with fair notice from the landlord or agent to gain access. If the landlord or agent enters uninvited, they may be entering unlawfully. Reasonable access should be allowed to the landlord or agent to allow for repairs and viewings for future possible tenants when the current tenant gives notice.
Maintenance and repairs - The tenant has the right to have major maintenance and repairs attended to within a reasonable time. In some instances the tenant may, with adequate notice in writing, make urgent repairs if the agent or landlord has failed to do so within a stipulated time and having being adequately informed thereof. “Tenants who decide to take this route should tread carefully here and gain legal advice before undertaking any repairs,” advises Rea.
Rental Housing Tribunal – A tenant is within their rights to approach the Rental Housing Tribunal for arbitration if their landlord or agent does not comply or act unlawfully - https://www.westerncape.gov.za/general-publication/rental-housing-tribunal
“It is always advisable that the tenant always communicate any issues or grievance with either the landlord or agent in writing. It is best to send supporting photographs and allow for a reasonable time for resolution before taking the more aggressive stance. Failing that, tenants should go and see them - a ‘face-to-face’ meeting will often smooth out misunderstandings. Remember to confirm all things discussed in writing after,” Rea concludes.