Know your rights as a tenant
Whether you are a first-time tenant or have rented a property before, you need to arm yourself with all the correct information to avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous rental agents or landlords.
Some landlords and agents ignore the law, and many tenants are unaware of how it protects them, so they feel they have no option but to accept this treatment. However, if you are sure of your rights, you will confidently be able to insist that your landlord or rental agent treat you fairly.
You will be able to have them consent to reasonable requests concerning the rental property and lease agreement terms.
The Rental Housing Act (RHA) clearly stipulates the regulations under which landlords, rental agents and tenants need to operate.
If all parties know where they stand and comply with the act's provisions, the landlord-tenant relationship should run smoothly.
Credit and personal information
Your landlord or rental agent may reasonably ask you to complete an application form. You will need to provide information such as your full name, marital status, identity number, credit information, etc. However, access to your credit information and personal information is only allowed with express permission.
In terms of the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia), this information must be stored securely and may not be shared with third parties without your permission,
which you are entitled to withhold.
All agreements relating to fixed property must be in writing, including lease agreements for rental properties. This is so that the obligations of all parties are recorded to avoid disputes at a later stage. You should insist that all parties sign the lease agreement before handing over your deposit or any other monies.
The deposit you pay must be placed into the rental agent's trust account or in a separate interest-earning bank account earmarked for the purpose if you are renting directly from a landlord. The RHA stipulates that you may, at any time, demand that the landlord or agent verify that the deposit is held in a secure account with interest accruing to you and a statement of the total.
At the end of the lease period, the landlord is legally obliged to refund your deposit, plus the interest accrued, within seven days after you have moved out. If the outgoing inspection reveals any damages that you are responsible for, the landlord may use part or all of your deposit to make good the damage. The balance must be refunded to you
within 14 days.
The RHA requires that the landlord or rental agent jointly inspect the property with the tenant at the start of the lease, and a record must be made of the property's condition. If the landlord or the rental agent doesn't comply, you should do your own inspection report with photographic evidence. An outgoing inspection must be held at the end of the lease period to establish the property's condition and whether you are liable for any repairs.
Repairs and maintenance
You have the right to have major maintenance and repairs attended to within a reasonable time. Keep in mind, though, that the landlord is only obliged to repair items that hinder reasonable day-to-day use of the property or make the property uninhabitable. In some instances, you may carry out urgent repairs if the agent or landlord has failed to do so within a stipulated time and has been adequately informed.
However, you need to be careful about this and get legal advice before undertaking any repairs. Be sure to give the agent or landlord adequate notice in writing.
You should ask for monthly copies of utility accounts and actual water meter readings. You should also ask for receipts for utilities payments if you pay in cash.
You have the right to unhindered enjoyment of the property. However, you should allow reasonable access for maintenance and repairs as well as viewings for prospective tenants when you give notice.
If the landlord or agent needs to gain access, they have to provide you with fair notice of this. If they enter uninvited or without your permission when you are not at home, they will be acting unlawfully.
The Rental Housing Tribunal is available to you for arbitration if your landlord or agent doesn't comply or acts unlawfully.
It's always advisable to notify the landlord or agent in writing if you have any issues. If possible, send supporting photographs of repairs that need to be carried out and allow a reasonable time for a response before taking a more aggressive approach.
Remember that a face-to-face meeting will often smooth out misunderstandings.