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Leaving the nest? Ask these questions

leaving the nest, birds resize

Renting your first apartment is exciting. Young professionals or executive couples may have romanticised ideas of what it will entail: lazy weekends reading by the window, having friends over and you get to decide when they leave, or cleaning up when you want to. All of this may lead to a first-time tenant basically jumping head over heels to secure that dream apartment.

Reality check. First-time tenants should ask their landlords a few vitally important questions to make that first apartment experience memorable for all the right reasons.

20 questions minus 10

#1 How much does the landlord require in upfront costs?cash register, till

A landlord will most likely require at least a month’s rent as security deposit against damages as well as the first month’s rent paid in advance. The landlord could also request a utility deposit from a new tenant. Some landlords will require that the costs of doing a credit check and an application fee be paid by the tenant. The tenant should find out whether this fee is refundable if the application is unsuccessful before applying and whether that payment will be deducted from the security deposit if the application is successful.

#2 Does the landlord require a guarantor?

Many landlords may be wary of signing a lease agreement with a first-time tenant with no credit record. In this case the landlord may insist that a guarantor sign the agreement. The tenant will need to find a family member or friend willing to cover the costs of rent should the tenant be unable to foot the bill – for whatever reason. Landlords may even run a credit check on the guarantor and charge a fee for this; likewise the tenant should find out beforehand if this fee will be deducted from the first month’s rent.

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#3 What are the implications of breaking the lease agreement?

What happens if a tenant needs to move before the specified period in a lease agreement is reached? Before signing an agreement the tenant should find out the penalties of breaking the lease agreement. In many cases the tenant may forfeit any monies held by the landlord in his or her name. More importantly, if an agreement had a guarantor, the signatory may be held responsible for the balance of the agreement. It is always best to have any agreement on this matter in written format.

#4 What is the course of action during a maintenance emergency?

Some complexes or buildings may have an on-site caretaker who should be contacted in case of emergencies; others would expect you to contact a hired consulting service which manages the building’s maintenance, though this may only be applicable during office hours.

A tenant needs to know if the landlord can and should be contacted to deal with major maintenance issues as having to call out an independent professional could land the tenant with a hefty bill. If this does occur a tenant should also have certainty on whether the landlord will cover professional fees.

#5 What about parking?car parked, illegal, clamp wheel

If a parking spot is vital, the first course of action should be to establish if a spot is included in the rental agreement. If yes the tenant should establish whether or not this comes at an extra cost and what fee. Another factor to consider is the code of conduct regarding guest parking. Should notice be given if a guest is staying for a longer visit? Will a fee apply? To where can parking violations in this regard be reported?

#6 Which utilities are included?

A tenant should confirm what, if any, costs are included in the rental agreement. Who is responsible for refuse removal costs? In line with this is to find out when refuse collection takes place and what the tenant’s responsibility is.

Water and lights may be excluded. In this case the tenant should enquire about average monthly costs to estimate affordability. It is also worth finding out about any extras that may be offered such as Wi-Fi at the complex, a satellite dish, and what the costs are to have these services connected.

#7 Are pets allowed?dog and pet resize

In some cases pets may not be allowed based on the sectional title scheme rules. In other cases the landlord may forbid pets in an attempt to limit damage of the property. Either way, a tenant should ask this question before signing a lease if living with a furry friend is non-negotiable. The landlord’s policy may allow only one small pet, but no cats, for example. In this instance the tenant should determine what costs are involved – the landlord may need an additional payment on the security deposit to account for any pet-related damages on the property.

#8 What, if any, fee is applicable to using communal amenities?

It’s likely a building/complex has rules that apply to the use of the communal swimming pool or braai area. It is worthwhile to establish beforehand what the expected conduct is. A tenant may want to know if these areas can be booked for private functions and what the costs are.

Another consideration is the building’s quiet hours or limits on noise levels. It may be a good idea to ask current tenants how strictly these rules are enforced to make sure the apartment is a good fit.

#9 Is there a guest policy and what about listing on Airbnb?

Some landlords may limit the number of guests a tenant can have in a month or limit the length of stay. A prospective tenant needs to find out these conditions, if applicable, before signing the agreement as a landlord will notice if the tenant is sneaking in guests.

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Sub-leasing on Airbnb is also something that a tenant should discuss with the landlord/owner before attempting this as the repercussions could be significant if not condoned by the landlord.

#10 Can the apartment be decorated to taste?bad decorating and wall designs, speakers, sound

Most rental agreements will have a clause that states written permission is required before painting (or any other significant change). The agreement could also state that the apartment needs to be restored to its current state when moving out or the tenant could risk forfeiting a portion of the security deposit.

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Probably the most important determinant in a successful tenant/landlord relationship is respect and mutual understanding. As a first-time tenant it is important that you build a good tenant record or all future rental applications may be tainted.


Mariette Steynberg is a qualified economist with a post-graduate diploma in financial planning. She has enjoyed working on holistic financial plans for clients in various stages of life, as well as a development economist assessing the socioeconomic impacts of new developments. When she is not working, Mariette enjoys parenting her quirky, delightful toddler girl. Cloth diapering, Eskimo kisses and the importance of reading to your child are all causes close to her heart. Mariette is passionate about financial education and hopes to use the experience she has gained to share knowledge with HomeTimes’ readership. Her goal is to provide information that is implementable by everyone.

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