Advice and Opinion

Tips for tenants: five things you may not know but should know

There are often many rules and regulations to consider when you are a tenant, and there may be some that you don’t even realize can affect you. “It’s important to know what your rights are, as well as your responsibilities,” says Natalie Muller, Western Cape Regional Rentals Manager for Jawitz Properties.

Below are five considerations that may not be as commonly known as they should be.

Struggling to rent because of your credit record?

Tenants who default and have judgments against them often battle to redeem their good name. You may have had a couple of bad months and your credit check shows black marks against you. Perhaps you have recovered since, or are in debt counselling, so this is not necessarily the end of the road to get back into good standing. “If a tenant has a debt counsellor that will definitely help. There is also the option to co-sign a new lease with someone else who is in good-standing, and it can be possible to negotiate with landlords, or managing agents to have insurance policies added on to your rental to show your good faith,” Muller says. “It is also advised to go for a rental property that is positioned below what you can actually afford to build in a safety cushion to avoid defaulting again.”

Your deposit should earn interest

This might be the more likely known tip from this list, but your deposit is supposed to be held where it can earn interest. “Tenants are entitled to an interest rate in line with a standard savings account on their deposits, but it will very much depend on what the landlord or managing rental agent provides. There are clever alternatives to a huge deposit as well such as special loan options and deposit guarantee products. You should chat to your agent about the options and costs involved,” Muller says.

What happens if there is a burglary the day you move in?

It is vital that your possessions are insured and generally speaking, it will be your responsibility to recover any losses if a burglary happens as soon as you move in, or at any time throughout the lease period. “You have to, for example, be aware of keeping valuables out of sight. If you feel the landlord is liable, however, make the claim through your insurance and they will then request a refund from your landlord.” Ensure that at the time of the inspection you confirm that the windows and doors all close and lock properly. “If no issues are noted, the cost of replacing them will fall on you in the event of a break-in,” Muller adds.

Poor conditions mean you can get out

If there are unsanitary issues on the property you are renting such as rising damp and mould, or raw sewerage, the property may be considered uninhabitable. “The rental agent can inspect it for you, you can get a second opinion, and if the issues are not resolved by the landlord, you have every right to leave. There will be no recourse for the landlord, as he or she cannot be compensated for a tenant breaking a lease in this regard, particularly if the tenant brings forward the health concerns,” Muller says.

Cancellation must be in writing

You may think it is all good and well to call up your rental agent or your landlord and say you would like to cancel your lease. “Unfortunately, only instructions such as cancellations are considered legal if done in writing, so put pen to paper, or type up an email beforehand to keep yourself in the clear,” she says.

However, breaking a lease early, depending on the reason could leave you liable. “You may be expected to either find a replacement tenant, or to cover the landlord’s costs of advertising for one. Equally so, you may be liable for the cost of the rental agent’s commission as part of the penalty of breaking the lease, as well as for the loss of rental income of up to two months, if no replacement can be found. Think really carefully before you leave early if potentially losing your deposit, or more, is worth moving a few months early,” Muller concludes.