Advice and Opinion

Tips for first-time tenants

Estate Agency generic

More young people are pouring into SA’s big towns and cities all the time in search of work, education and business opportunities, and the first housing option for most of them is rental accommodation.

However, says Gerhard Kotzé, MD of the RealNet estate agency group, many first-time renters, like students and other young people who have previously been living with their families, are not familiar with what is required to be able to rent, and may lose out on suitable accommodation as a result.

They need help to present themselves to landlords as well-prepared and “solid” tenants who are likely to be reliable when it comes to paying the rent and looking after the property, and RealNet has compiled the following guidelines as a start:

  • Rent through an established and reputable agency. This is much safer and easier, especially for first-time tenants, than renting from a private landlord. When you search rental listings in the newspaper or on the internet, choose those that are being offered by well-known agencies. Or visit the offices of one or two agencies and ask them to suggest suitable properties. If you are a student, ask the student advisory office on your campus for a list of accredited agents and rental options.
  • Come prepared with your identification, proof of current residence (even if it is your family home where you were living before your move to the city), bank statements if you have them, driver’s licence, proof of employment or of registration at your educational institution. If you are a student, you should also bring official notification of any student loans, bursaries or rental assistance you will be receiving from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
  • Be prepared for the agency to ask to check your credit history. Even if you don’t have a bank account yet and have never applied for any credit, they need to officially make sure that you have no outstanding judgments, have not been blacklisted, do not have a history of defaulting on the rent somewhere else and do not have a criminal record. However, they are only allowed to do this with your permission.
  • Be prepared to pay a security deposit of at least one month’s rent. You may also be asked to pay a deposit for municipal services like water and electricity. But remember, reputable rental management companies will never ask you for a deposit before you have seen the property and agreed to rent it. You should be very wary of people who put pressure on you to pay money to “book” the property so that it will not be let to someone else, as they are most likely fraudsters.

“Do not expect to be able to move in before you have completed the application process, signed a proper lease agreement and paid your deposit. This can take a few days so make sure you have somewhere to stay until you have sorted out all the paperwork”.

  • Once you have found a place you like and can afford, make sure you sign a written lease. This is important to protect your rights as well as those of the property owner. The lease should state the term of your rental agreement, how the property can be used, how many people can stay there, who is responsible for the condition of the property when you move in and when you leave, the monthly rental amount, the deposit due, the rules and regulations of the building or complex, and any other factors that will affect your stay.
  • Make sure you read and understand the whole lease before you sign it. Pay particular attention to how long you are agreeing to rent, the total monthly rent to pay, any other costs, where you must pay rent, when the rent is due and what can happen if you do not pay on time. It is also very important that the lease states what the agent or landlord will do with your deposit, and what you must do to be fully refunded this deposit at the end of the lease.
  • And finally, you should make sure that the lease explains what your contract rights are with regards to the Consumer Protection Act, how much advance notice you need to give if you decide to end the agreement, and where to contact your nearest Rental Tribunal if you ever end up in a serious dispute with your landlord.