Your rental rights as a tenant
When you rent a place to live, what are your rental rights?
What makes you a ‘good’ tenant?
You need to commit to and keep up the requirements on your side of the rental agreement. For example, it’s important that you pay your rent on time each month, says rental legal expert Marlon Shevelew, director of property law firm Marlon Shevelew & Associates Inc. “You want to be ‘good’ in the eyes of the law. You don’t want to give your landlord an opportunity to cancel your lease, or to sue you.”
What your rental contract should include
You should understand the rental or lease agreement that you’re signing, and if anything is unclear you should ask if you’re unsure before signing anything.
- The agreement should include the full names of you (the tenant) and your landlord.
- It should say how long your lease is for – which means, how long you can rent the property before the contract has to be renewed or renegotiated.
- It should state clearly where the property is that you’re renting – the full residential address.
- Your rental agreement should also include exactly how much your monthly rental amount is each month, and who you should pay it to (with banking information).
- It should clearly state the full deposit amount payable upfront, if your landlord requires one.
- It should explain who is responsible for looking after what. Most agreements state that the landlord is responsible for maintaining the structure of the property and any fixed plumbing or electrics.
“If, however, you install your own air conditioner in the rented house, you will be responsible for maintaining it,” explains Marius Neethling from Santam. You and your landlord should sign the agreement; get a copy for your records.
Did you pay your landlord a deposit?
“Your landlord must place your deposit (not usually more than two months’ rent, but the amount is not regulated by law) in an interest-bearing account, and they may not touch it for the time of the lease agreement,” says Shevelew. That means that when you get your deposit returned to you, it should be paid back to you with interest.
Can your landlord deduct money from your deposit?
Yes – your landlord can use your deposit amount to pay any outstanding costs that you were responsible for paying. This includes rent you may have failed to pay; outstanding accounts for water and electricity; and repairs to the property that were your fault.
“At the end of your lease, you have one important duty – to leave the property in the same condition you received it,” explains Shevelew. Before you move in Make sure that you and your landlord agree to a detailed inspection of the property. This is to note down any damage or problems before you move in, so that the same issues cannot be deducted from your deposit when you move out.
Consider taking out tenant’s liability insurance, which would cover you for any damage to the building that your landlord can charge you for, suggests Neethling. When you move out do an outgoing inspection with your landlord – you should both agree to the final list. This will be compared with the inspection done before you moved in, to see if there is damage to the property, or missing things that you would be responsible to pay for.
If your landlord doesn’t conduct the outgoing inspection with you, it’s considered that the property was left in good condition and they’ll have to refund your full deposit within seven days of the end of your agreement.
Final thoughts on rental agreements, tenant and landlord rights
- Your landlord may not increase your rent during the fixed-term period (the period of time stated in your contract that your agreement is for).
- You have the right to cancel your lease early by giving your landlord 20 business days’ notice; you may have to pay a penalty fee.
- Your landlord can only cancel your lease if they have already given you 20 business days’ notice to fix something you’ve done to break your contract (for example, not paid your rent on time) and you failed to fix the issue within the 20 days.
- Your landlord cannot cut off your utilities and services due to non-payment. This can only be done by the municipality.
- If you don’t pay your rent, and your lease is cancelled, you become an unlawful occupant and can be evicted. You can’t be evicted or locked out of the property without a court order.
- Landlords can inspect the property from time to time, but they must let you know in advance. Unannounced inspections are not allowed.
- Always report leaks, hazards or concerns to your landlord in writing (for example, via email) so that you have proof that you raised concerns in case something goes wrong. This could help protect you from being charged for the damage later on.
Reality Club and Reality Access for Sanlam Group Risk members: if you are still unsure about what your rights are or if you’re looking to chat to an expert about your legal questions, make use of your Legal Assist benefit, available to Reality Club and Reality Access for Sanlam Group Risk members. Get free legal assistance 24/7; call 0860 732 548/9 or view the full benefit details.
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