Home security: Where the landlord’s responsibility ends
Donna had been struggling to find the right rental property and was thrilled when she eventually found what she considered to be the perfect home.
“It was a really lovely-looking place. The fixtures were sensational and if I have to be honest, the spa bath in the en suite bathroom basically clinched the deal and I didn’t really pay much attention to anything else before I signed the lease.
“I’d only been living in the property for a few weeks when problems started to surface. My son’s bicycle was stolen out of the yard. I rowed with him, because I’d warned him of the dangers of not locking the bike away. The next week the garage was broken into and all of my husband’s tools stolen. We started having security concerns at that point, but it was only when the home was broken into while we were at work a few days later that we realised we had a major problem and that the security measures in place were totally inadequate.
“We requested a meeting with the landlord, assuming that he’d be more than willing to beef up the security given that we were paying R15,000 a month for the privilege of living in his home – but we were wrong.
“He wasn’t interested at all, saying that in his opinion the burglar bars and the (rusted) razor wire on the perimeter fence were more than enough to keep criminals at bay. To be clear, we didn’t expect him to install a state-of-the-art security system, but we did expect him to listen to our concerns and improve, or at the very least maintain, the security that was already in place. He refused; noting that the previous tenants had never had any issues and that the lease we had signed made no reference to security in and around the home and any improvements we wanted to make in this regard would be for our own account.
“We made some enquiries as to the cost of installing an alarm system, but the cost was enormous and we decided that we’d simply become more vigilant and beef up security as best we could by installing a bigger lock on the garage and putting in a couple of security gates that we bought from a chain store.
“Despite these measures, we were robbed again. Unfortunately, this time we were at home when the burglars gained access. It was an incredibly traumatic experience and although no one was injured during the invasion, the experience was terrifying and we decided then and there that we would be moving out. We gave notice and moved out as soon as we could. Regrettably, we lost a great deal of money in the process because the landlord insisted we pay the rent for the remainder of the lease. We took legal advice and managed to talk the owner into allowing us to pay for an additional month’s rental while he sourced a new tenant.
“We understand that crime is a problem in this country and accept that some criminals will find a way to enter a home regardless of the security measures in place, but what really got to us was the landlord’s complete disregard for our safety and his refusal to take adequate steps to secure the home.
“We’ve learnt our lesson and not only ensured our next home had decent security, but also demanded that a clause be inserted in the lease stating that the landlord would maintain these security features.”
We asked Marlon Shevelew from Marlon Shevelew and Associates Inc to clarify who is responsible for which security features when it comes to a rental property.
“Security is often a contentious issue between landlords and tenants. Landlords are often of the view that their obligations extend only so far as was agreed, while tenants often feel that it should be fairly obvious that their landlords would either have to provide some form of security or maintain existing security measures.
Check the lease
“Tenants should never leave these things to chance and should negotiate regarding security upfront and before signing a lease agreement. If doors or windows do not lock properly or are not adequately secured, it must be noted and agreed that these will, at the very least, be attended to by the landlord before the tenant moves in.
“This, in my view, would be a minimum requirement on the landlord, considering the obligation to provide a property that is reasonably fit for the purpose for which it is let.”
Beyond that, it becomes a matter of negotiation between the parties. A tenant may feel that it is reasonable to install a security gate, but if this has not been agreed to by the landlord, it would be difficult to force the landlord to do so after the lease has been signed, as parties to an agreement are, in general, bound only to that which they agreed to in terms of that agreement. Alarm systems are also contentious areas, as the lease may provide for the fact that the system has been installed, but may not include any duties as to the maintenance or repair of that system. All of this must be agreed to between the parties at the outset in order to avoid a dispute about it later.”
He says that the truth of the matter is that if the lease does not provide for these obligations on the part of the landlord, it is possible for a landlord to simply escape all liability in this regard. It is therefore important that all security concerns, including installation and maintenance, are agreed to and included in the lease agreement. In that way, there can be no doubt as to where the obligation lies and who is responsible for what.
Steps a tenant can take if maintenance is not being attended to
“It is always advisable to try to resolve issues that you may have with your landlord amicably, through discussion and negotiation. Every issue that arises during a tenancy will not result in the landlord or the tenant wanting the tenancy to end and so it is important that the parties maintain a positive relationship insofar as this remains possible. If you feel that your requests are reasonable and that the landlord should be attending to them, then it’s best to raise them with your landlord as soon as possible. Be sure to do this in writing, even if things are relatively informal at this stage. It’s best that a record be kept.”
He notes that if the lease agreement makes provisions for maintenance obligations on the part of the landlord and the landlord refuses to comply with these obligations, despite attempts to resolve these, compliance with the landlord’s obligations can be demanded. Typically, the lease would provide for the right of the tenant to call upon the landlord to take action within a specified period of time, failing which the tenant can make the necessary repairs and hold the landlord liable for the costs.
“If the lease does not place this obligation on the landlord, but the tenant remains of the view that the requests are reasonable and ought to be attended to by the landlord, the tenant can approach the Rental Housing Tribunal for assistance or relief. The Tribunal has a specific complaint form to address the failure on the part of the landlord to do maintenance. Although there can be no guarantee of a successful outcome, the Tribunal will do its best to achieve a workable compromise for all parties concerned.”