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How to avoid a landlord from hell

One day you wake up and realise that the two-bedroom townhouse you’ve been renting is just too small. The baby needs grass to play on and the-then small rescue pup is actually just way too big to live indoors. You need to cancel your lease and find more space – and fast!

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You begin your search online and soon realise that an extra room and garden comes at quite the price tag. It’s discouraging, until you find it on the 14th page. The one listing you may actually be able to afford and it looks perfect! You really want this place so you are ready to just about jump through hoops to secure it – you answer the ad as quickly as you can type – leaving a trail of typos in your wake – and click “send”. But then nothing. Only silence.

That is until 05:45 two days later when the landlord phones you to let you know it’s available. What would you do? Take it! That’s what the tenant we spoke to did. She wants to remain anonymous but feels it’s her duty to let you know the signs to spot a landlord from hell. According to her, a Landlord from Hell:

#1 Uses the title “landlord” as an excuse to behave horribly

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Our poor tenant’s first red flag should have been the call at 05:45. “This guy sent an existing tenant from another property he owns in the area to open for me to view the property,” says Anonymous. “The fact that he had so little regard for his tenant’s time should have been a clear no-no. But I was just too desperate for the house.”

According to Anonymous this same tenant was sent to hand over the keys the night before the move-in. Anonymous then noted some serious defects in the property that she was not made aware of on first viewing and phoned the landlord when she got home only to be met with some serious wrath. “The front door’s locking mechanism was faulty and a window in each of the rooms could not close properly; this was particularly worrying to me as the window latch on my baby’s room was completely broken.”

Anonymous reports that when she phoned him, admittedly after hours on the Friday evening to discuss these serious problems, the landlord basically treated her like a child. He deplored her for phoning him for something that was “not an emergency”.

To top it all off Anonymous reports receiving regular, short-notice drop-ins from the landlord at times that were not always convenient.

#2 Has ridiculous demands, but no givedeal breaker

The house that Anonymous was to rent was vacant prior to her moving in. “I just assumed he would be fine with me moving in some boxes the Friday night to make the big  move on the Saturday easier,” she says. “He said I could do it but would have to pay a pro-rata rental for the one night my boxes would be on his property.”

The rental contract was a 44-page document that had to be signed and initialed on each page. Anonymous had to get two witnesses to sign and initial each page too, and the name and description of each pet had to be written down.

“I was fine with all of this; I assumed it was for the protection of himself and his property,” adds Anonymous. “What upset me though, was when I had to pay for my credit history report before my application was approved and it as well as my application fee wasn’t subtracted from my deposit. This man was treating me like a delinquent teenager.”

#3 Trivialises your concerns and complaints

“I was really upset about the front door and broken window latches. When I told him that it is a concern for me as my baby boy will sleep in one of the rooms by himself he said if I am that worried I must let my child sleep with me,” explains Anonymous.

How to avoid tenants from hell

After this, every complaint or maintenance issue Anonymous raised was met with a comment from the landlord on what a good deal he had given her, with none of the maintenance issues actually ever being seen to.

#4 Does not maintain the propertyugly home resize

Anonymous admits that the very badly kept garden should have been the only warning she needed. “The property was being painted before we moved in – I assume to even make it habitable. I thought the garden would be left in a better state after the maintenance had been completed. And certainly before we moved in.”

The morning of the move-in the “garden” was still strewn with litter, dangerous pieces of metal and concrete, and branches from trees that had been pruned.

“There were even pork and chicken bones left by the contractors!” says Anonymous. “So much for my vision of my little one playing happily on the grass; there was not a patch of grass, it was all dirt.”

According to Anonymous they’ve since planted grass out of their own pocket with no talk of reimbursement from the landlord.

#5 Thinks that clauses in the rental contract trump the law of the landpile of paperwork

“Looking back at the contract now I can see the many issues with it. I never should have signed it but wanted that house, and I had already given notice at the other place,” says Anonymous. The landlord added a clause to say that Anonymous willfully waives all rights with respect to the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act.

“Despite the fact that rental increases are at between 6% and 7%, he demanded a 5% increase every six months, effectively more than 10% on an annual basis,” she says. “When I moved out I also had to pay an R800 inspection fee, although nothing was wrong with the property. If something had been damaged that would have been an additional subtraction from my key deposit.”

In hindsight, what would Anonymous do differently? “I will never again rent from an owner who is managing the property himself; I only work through rental agencies now,” she says. “I also demand multiple viewings of the property and read the contract three times before signing.”

She says that in her experience it really is easy to tell when a person is going to make your life difficult. “Your intuition will warn you; don’t put yourself in the position where you have to move into an unpleasant landlord’s home because you’ve already given notice. Make doubly sure that everything is kosher before making any final decisions.”

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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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