Landlords and tenants should know their rights

By Staff Writer
Deciding to enter into the terrain of either letting or renting property can be draining. Which is why it is vital that both landlord and tenant know their rights.

“One of the most important aspects that potential landlords should consider before deciding to let out a property is a tenant’s rights and what implications they have if the contract turns bad at any stage during the period that the tenant occupies the property,” said Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.

Goslett stresses that anyone who is considering leasing out a residential space should acquaint themselves with the Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act (PIE).
“While the Act has been in effect for some time, with access to so much more information, tenants are becoming far more aware of their rights and landlords need to know what they can and cannot do. Although the systems were put in place to protect both parties, the Act weighs in the tenant’s favour. A landlord cannot under any circumstances resort to eviction tactics such as changing the locks, cutting off water and electricity or forcibly removing a tenant that hasn’t paid rent without receiving authority from the courts to do so,” said Goslett.
RE/MAX also stressed the importance of landlords doing their research in handling their portfolio professionally and adhering to the requirements thereof.
Tips for landlords
-Have a plan and set a timeline:Property is a long term investment. “It’s important to remember that while the property will appreciate in value over time and will generate a rental income, there may be costs that are not entirely covered by the rent. This is why the decision needs to be made with the long-term goal in mind,” said Goslett.
-Crunch the numbers: “When it comes time to crunch the numbers, landlords will need to factor in expenses such as property insurance, rates and taxes, utilities, possible legal costs or collection costs, rental agent’s commission and general property maintenance,” explained Goslett.
He added that landlords will need to have money set aside for unforeseen circumstances such as issues that are not covered by the home insurance or for legal costs if the tenant defaults and no longer pays their rent.
-Tenant selection is key: “Tenant selection is where the use of a rental agent will really pay off, as they will be able provide the landlord with the professional vetting and screening of tenants. Factors that will need to be considered during the vetting process are the tenant’s previous rental history, reasons why they are moving, their place of employment and income.  Landlords should verify the information given by contacting the references provided by the tenant,” stated Goslett.
-Ensure contracts are as detailed as possible: “Landlords will want to ensure that their agreement with the tenant covers aspects such as acceptable tenant behaviour, breakage costs, preferred method of payment and date that the rental is payable,” noted Goslett.
-Make a checklist:The landlord should make a checklist of all the items that they need to look at and check before a new tenant moves into the property. The list will ensure that all potential problem areas can be sorted out and that a snag list can be drawn up with the tenant in a comprehensive manner, said Goslett.
With rights, however, come responsibility and as much as the tenants have rights, they also have to ensure that they uphold their end of the contract, especially where the upkeep of the property is concerned.
The relationship between tenant and landlord should be based on mutual respect ensuring both parties benefit, said Goslett. “A tenant should ensure that the rent is paid timeously on a monthly basis and the landlord needs to ensure that the property is maintained and kept in a satisfactory condition.”
Tips for tenants
The following is in accordance with The Rental Housing Act of 1999.
-Inspecting the premises beforehand: Tenants should ensure that an inspection is done of the home before the signing of the contract, in the presence of the landlord to ensure that any damage or defects are recorded, ensuring the landlord takes responsibility in rectifying them.
-Right to privacy: Tenants have the right to privacy once the contract or lease has been signed. This forbids landlords from searching the tenants home, property, infringing on communications or seizing possessions; unless court ordered to do so.
-Right to a written receipt for all payments made: Tenants should ensure that they are issued with a written receipt for all payments made to the landlord, to ensure clarity and proof of payment should any payment discrepancies arise.
-Seek legal advice before signing your contract:Have an impartial lawyer review your contract, making sure the agreement is in your favour too. Also have him/her explain the contract and the terms to you, in light of your role, entirely before you sign the contract.
-Make sure you familiarise yourself with the contract- It is important that you not only understand the grounds of the agreement but that you know your rights and responsibilities, to avoid you being exploited. Keep a copy on hand of your contract, should any issues arise and you need to refer to it.
-Find out about tenants committees: Do research into whether or not your area or building has an active tenants committee and become a member to further educating yourself on your rights as a tenant. This also enables you to be part of a support network where grievances can be aired and taken to the landlord to deal with. (This would be more relevant to leased apartment blocks.)
Rental Housing Tribunal
According to RE/MAX, the Rental Housing Tribunal operates under the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999 in assisting dealings between landlords and tenants.
“The responsibilities of the Tribunal include advising tenants and landlords of their rights and obligations as well as resolving issues. The Housing Tribunal has mediating facilities and if the issue cannot be resolved over the table, then a hearing will be called. It is worth noting that a ruling of the Tribunal is deemed to be an order of a magistrate‘s court in terms of the Magistrate ‘s Court Act, 1944 (Act No 32 of 1944),” commented Goslett.
Most frequent issues the Tribunal face
• Failure to refund deposits
• Unlawful notice to vacate
• Exorbitant increases in the rental
• Failure to pay rent
• Unlawful seizure of possessions
• Failure to reduce the lease to writing 
The relationship of landlord and tenant can be fairly stress-free as both parties maintain their end of the contract.

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