Top tips for tenants

By Staff Writer

By Bertie Oosthuysen, Smith Anderson Realty’s general manager for South Africa

Horror stories abound of tenants getting the short end of the stick when it comes to landlords not taking responsibility for repairs, security and stepping up in an emergency.

Often it’s not as blatant as ignoring a request from a tenant, rather it can be foot dragging on repairs or doing a half-hearted job in order to save time and money. And with landlords selecting, retaining and paying managing agents – thus owning that relationship - it’s no wonder that when things go wrong it can feel like the tenant is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

But this doesn’t have to be the case, and with some forward thinking and careful management, tenants can avoid unpleasant situations and have a long and happy relationship with their landlord and property managing agent.

A managing agent’s role is twofold: market the property and find suitable tenants, then manage the property on behalf of the landlords. Some landlords only retain a property agent to find a tenant, then take over the management themselves.

It’s important to realise that although the managing agent’s agreement is with the landlord, who also pays their commission, the agent’s role is to be the ultimate matchmaker and serve both parties at once. Having to frequently replace unhappy tenants is not in the landlord’s best interests, as they want to maximise the value of their investment property. So managing agents need to ensure tenants stay satisfied.

The role of the managing agent

Both landlords and tenants have the right to demand certain basic rights, and it is up to the agent to negotiate these terms and conditions and balance each party’s requirements. Agents have a duty to find out from the landlord and disclose to the tenant all relevant details about the property, so that the tenant can make an informed choice. This way the agent ensures the landlord holds up his end of the deal and rents what was advertised with no nasty surprises.

The managing agent is also the first port of call for emergencies, any maintenance issues and other day-to-day matters.

Tips for tenants

The key to a smooth relationship with your landlord is to make sure the rental agreement spells out roles, responsibilities and turn around times. So take the time to read through the agreement and make sure it includes:

•    The circumstances under which a landlord or managing agent may enter the property.

•    The procedure for dealing with general maintenance issues as well as emergencies, including fair turn around times. In the case where the landlord is not easy to get hold of, for instance they might live aboard, a list of preferred suppliers and spending limits should be agreed in advance.

•    Responsibilities for maintenance and repairs: Typically a landlord needs to insure the building and is responsible for fixtures such as pipes and geysers. The tenant however is responsible for handing back the property in the same condition as it was received.

•    Include a snag list in the initial agreement – this documents any minor items that are worn or damaged when moving in and prevents you being held responsible for their repair on moving out.

•    Terms can always be negotiated: for instance if you are happy to look after the garden, a reduced rental rate can be negotiated as the landlord saves on gardening service fees.

•    Make sure the rental agreement complies with the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). This comes down very heavily in favour of the tenant and makes it possible for the tenant to give 20 business days notice to vacate with a fair penalty. Unfortunately there are no guidelines around what a fair penalty is so we recommend agreeing this in writing in advance.

•    Also, under the CPA, leases may not be signed for longer than a 24-month term with the option of renewing for another 24 months.

In the excitement of finding a perfect property to live in, it might be tempting to gloss over some of the details, sign a stripped down private lease or even agree things verbally. These will be forgotten and will come back to bite you. The absence of a proper agreement, in my experience, inevitably results in a sour relationship, and at worst, litigation.

So yes, this does mean wading through a number of pages of lease, but the managing agent can explain unfamiliar terms and concepts to you, guide you on negotiations. What’s more, an experienced managing agent will provide a solid rental agreement as a starting point.

The bottom line is that as the tenant you must step up at the outset and understand the terms and conditions of the lease to ensure your rights are protected. This will allow the managing agent to effectively fight your corner.

A bit of preparation and legwork at the outset can save you loads of headaches and heartache down the line. If you make sure all the rules are set before you move into a new property then you do not have anything to worry about.

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