Tenants are seldom experts on the subject of leases and consequently uncertain about things like their rights, why to submit three months’ bank statements with a lease application, and what to do to ensure that a deposit will be refunded after a lease expires.PG van der Linde, rentals manager for Seeff Pretoria East, offers the following advice to help clear up some of the most important questions that tenants have.
They screen a prospective tenant’s affordability, willingness to pay their rent and whether the person has any judgements against them by doing a background check before approving a lease. This is all done to find someone who is able to pay and will likely not pay late.
Affordability or ability is determined by looking at the tenant’s salary slip, three months’ bank statements and retrieving a bank code if it is a cheque account. As a rule of thumb a tenant’s income should be at least three times more than the rental – once we have determined whether the tenant can afford the property we must determine willingness to pay.
For this we check how many accounts the tenant has opened and more importantly whether they are paid on time. It is easy to establish whether a tenant has formed the habit of paying late, making partial payments or not paying at all when we study their open accounts, be it clothing or cell phone accounts.
Once your lease has been approved and you have moved into the property you are not allowed to make any structural additions or alterations without written consent from the owner.
If the owner does give consent, it is important for the tenant to remember that he/she is not entitled to compensation for convenient changes and fixtures when the lease expires. The tenant may also not remove these alterations/fixtures from the premises. The tenant is, however, entitled to reimbursement for necessary improvements.
I suggest tenants ask agents to propose structural changes they have in mind to the owner prior to moving in.
How can tenants be sure to get their deposits back?
- Look after the property as if it were your own.
- Hand back the property in the same condition as it was given to you. We determine the initial condition of the property with a thorough inspection of the premises before the lease commences. I would recommend that the tenant and owner both take pictures and even videos and to have a condition list with notes stipulating the condition of the property. Both parties must sign the initial and final report.
- Fair wear and tear however is allowed on a property and the tenant should not be penalised for this. When there is wear and tear to something that doesn’t usually deteriorate then this is not considered wear and tear, but rather damage. Examples of things that will experience wear are carpets, paint, door handles, cupboards, closets etc.
What if a tenant wants to back out of a lease?
Tenants should understand that a property is an investment to the owner and that a vacant property not earning rental income could be detrimental to the landlord.
With this in mind tenants must give the owner at least one month’s notice (30 working days) to allow the agent to secure a new tenant for the property.
If tenants fail to give notice they will be liable to pay damages to the owner. If the landlord/agent makes a driven effort to rent out the property at market-related prices after cancellation, but cannot find a new tenant, then the tenant can be held liable for damages and will have to pay the outstanding balance of rental up to termination date. These conditions will be stipulated in the lease agreement.
Rental is payable on the first of the month and is considered late by day two of the month. We allow a four-day grace period for payment before taking action. Letters of demand are sent to tenants in arrears on the morning of the fifth late day (6th day of the month) after warning the tenants through several phone calls and emails.
If payment is not received within 20 business days from the default date as per the letter of demand the tenant can be asked to vacate the premises within 20 business days. Should the tenant breach contract and/or default on payments for three consecutive months we will continue with blacklisting. Blacklisting someone is not something we like to do, but we feel that it is our responsibility to make society aware of non-paying individuals.
When a tenant consistently pays late it is best for the landlord to give 20 business days’ notice of cancellation due to material failure. The landlord is only allowed to give notice to vacate if the tenant breaches the contract as per the CPA section 14. If the breach is remedied within 20 business days the landlord may not continue with cancellation.
Late payment is considered breach of contract since it is agreed that payment will be received by the owner on the first of every month.
Van der Linde concludes that tenants and landlords who have issues that can’t be resolved by the agents can turn to the Rental Housing Tribunal (see relevant numbers below) that will listen to both parties and establish a fair settlement or who will assist in mediation. It is important to note that the Rental Housing Tribunal is not biased towards the tenant, but will listen to the facts and base its decision on these facts whether in favour of the landlord or tenant.
Rental Housing Tribunal numbers by region