Moving into a new apartment or house can be exciting, but unless you are fully aware of your rights as a tenant, it can become a nightmare when things go wrong. Depending on your lease agreement alone to protect you, can sometimes be inadequate when disputes between you and your landlord or agent arises. Here are a few things you should take note of when renting.

Get it in writing

This usually happens, when you privately rent a cottage on someone’s property or you rent a room from an acquaintance, and you and the owner agree to certain terms and conditions verbally. Whatever the circumstance, always insist on getting it in writing. Although verbal agreements are binding, you don’t want to end up with a, “you said, I said……” situation.

Read before you sign

Disputes more often than not, arise because you didn’t read through or fully understand what was contained in the lease agreement. It is important that before you put your signature to any lease, you read through it fully, to understand, what your rights and obligations are. It allows you to question anything you are not happy with or you might not understand.

Check out before you move in

Prior to you moving into your new digs, arrange with the agent or landlord, that they, together with you, can carefully inspect the premises, to ensure there are no breakages, and that everything is in working condition. Anything broken or missing or not working should be listed and an undertaking by them, taken to replace and repair any items as listed. The list should be dated and signed by both parties. When moving out, arrange with the agent or landlord, a few days beforehand to inspect the home and sign off that they are happy. It is your right that your deposit is fully refunded to you once everything is cleared.

Deposit

When signing your lease, you will be required to pay a deposit, normally equal to one month’s rent. This is to protect the landlord, should any repairs need attention or anything need replacing when you leave. It is advisable to inquire whether this money will be placed in an interest bearing account.

After inspection, if the agent or landlord is happy, the deposit must be returned to you within 14 days.

You cannot use the deposit in lieu of your last month’s rent.

Obligations

As a tenant, as per your lease agreement, you are obliged to pay your rent on time. It is also your duty to maintain the abode in the state it was, when you moved in.

Unless you and the landlord have agreed otherwise, it is the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the property in the event of a repair or breakdown, unless the fault is due to negligence by you.

Can’t pay the rent

Life is full of nasty surprises, and when you least expect it, it can affect you. You can suddenly become ill or be retrenched, or find, for whatever reason, yourself in financial difficulty. Paying your rent may now become a problem. Not paying your rent might result in your agent or landlord issuing you with a ‘notice of breach’, giving you a chance to pay. If you do not pay, you could be taken to court to retrieve not only the money you owe, but also rent for the month’s remaining on your lease. If you find you can’t afford to pay your rent anymore, you need to get hold of your agent or landlord asap, and try and get them to release you from the lease.

However, whatever happens, your landlord can’t lock you out of your property, or change the locks to your property. If this happens, contact the police immediately to obtain a temporary restraining order. Whatever you do, do not attempt to obtain entry via illegal means. This can result in you possibly being charged with malicious damage to property.

Disputes

It’s important that you read through your lease agreement and understand it fully, and abide by it’s requirements. Disputes generally occur when tenants don’t fully understand what’s contained in the lease. However, should a genuine problem arise that can’t be sorted out, you can always get hold of the Rental Housing Tribunal. Rulings by the Tribunal are as good as an order from the magistrates court.

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