Tenant Rights and Responsibilities in South Africa
For many South Africans, renting is one of the most practical options when it comes to housing. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, to ensure you know exactly where you stand with your landlord.
Property rental: benefits of flexible housing for tenants
While there is a tendency to see rental as “paying someone else’s bond,” this is not always the case. Renting property comes with flexibility – as a tenant you’re not tied to one location for an extended period of time (such as the 10 – 20 years it might take to pay your own bond), if the market crashes and the property value plummets, it’s not your pocket that will be affected, and if you need to move (whether for work, growing family or studies), you can do this fairly quickly. When moving to a new location, you also get the benefit of fast availability (sometimes even immediate occupation) without having to wait to sell before moving.
What are the tenant’s responsibilities and obligations?
The respective rights and obligations between tenant and landlord should be clearly stated in the rental agreement in order to ensure both parties are on the same page and there is no room for misunderstanding. The tenant/landlord relationship is regulated by statutory rules and common law principles.
Here are the basics you need to be aware of.
The tenant’s responsibilities in terms of the common law –
The tenant has a duty to ensure that:
- The full amount of rent is paid into the landlord’s account of choice.
- The property is cared for and not used for other purposes other than the landlord intended.
- The property is restored to the same condition that it was received, when the lease has ended.
Please note: the common law only provides that full rent must be paid at the proper time – this being the date and time agreed between the tenant and landlord. Common law makes no provision for a seven-day grace period for a tenant.
The tenant’s responsibilities in terms of statutory law –
According to the Rental Housing Act, the tenant has a duty to ensure that:
- They pay the deposit, which is the amount agreed upfront between the landlord and tenant.
- They make prompt and regular payment of rent and other charges payable in terms of the lease.
- They partake in a property inspection with the landlord before the lease commences and after it has ended.
Property rental: the lease agreement
While the lease can be verbal, it’s always advisable to get everything in writing to clearly ascertain the tenant and landlord’s rights and responsibilities. Because there are many possible variations of standard clauses, as a tenant it is your duty to read the lease carefully to understand exactly what you are responsible for when it comes to a rental property.
Tenant and landlord must agree on the rent and additional charges (complex levies, fibre internet etc,) when payment needs to be made, where the payment must be made, and what property is being rented, and for which purposes.
Tenant’s rights and responsibilities – the deposit
It is reasonable for a landlord to request an upfront deposit from the tenant, in case there are damages to the property during occupation. This deposit is usually the equivalent of between one and three months’ rent, and depends on criteria such as credit rating and the condition or value of the property.
- The tenant has the right to request that their deposit be paid back at the end of the rental period, with interest.
- The landlord cannot use the deposit to upgrade the property once the tenant has left.
- The deposit must be held in trust against the risk of damages to the property. It cannot be used to offset rent owed at any time during the lease, particularly toward the end of the lease period.
- The tenant and landlord must together perform an inspection before occupying and after vacating the premises. The condition of the property must be noted before occupation in order to determine whether the tenant caused any damage during their lease period.
- The deposit can be used to cover any additional charges that the tenant owes under the lease – unpaid utilities, lost keys, damage and so forth.
- After the inspection, if it has been agreed that there are no damages for which the tenant is responsible, the depost must be refunded to the tenant within seven days.
- Where utilities (water/electricity) are payable in arrears, the tenant will only be able to reconcile the tenant’s deposit account once the last month’s utility bills have been received.
- Where the outgoing inspection determine that the tenant did cause damage;, the remaining deposit must be refunded within 14 days of restoration of the property.
- If the tenant does not attend the outgoing inspection, the landlord must refund the deposit within 21 days of termination of the lease.
Tenant’s rights and responsibilities during occupation of the rental property
Caring for the property: The tenant must take reasonable care of the property during his tenure and return the property in the same good order as it was handed over.
Paying for the property: The rent usually consists of a fixed basic rent amount and additional costs such as electricity, gas, water, parking, DSTV, etc as agreed by both parties.
Tenant’s rights and responsibilities during occupation of the rental property
- The tenant has a right to receive a receipt for all monies paid to the landlord
- The tenant has a right to a rental invoice which breaks down the respective costs: basic rent, electricity, water etc.
- The landlord may not increase the rent during the fixed term period.
Tenant’s rights and responsibilities – utilities
Utilities are the additional charges which the tenant must pay. These amounts are paid over and above the rent, and both the tenant and landlord must agree upfront on which additional charge the tenant will pay: electricity, water, sewerage, refuse removal or parking.
To simplify matters, most rental properties these days include prepaid electricity and water.
- The tenant has a right to ask to see the landlord’s municipal account to ensure they are not being overcharged by the landlord.
- The tenant is responsible for ensuring that their use of electricity/water and any other utilities is conservative.
- The landlord can only pass on the increase in their levies or rates and taxes as monthly charges if the lease specifically makes provision for this.
Tenant’s rights and responsibilities – early cancellation of lease agreement
Usually, a lease agreement is for a fixed period, such as 12 months. However, the tenant does have the right to cancel the lease before the end of this fixed period.
- The tenant has the right to cancel a lease early by giving the landlord 20 business days notice. This might trigger a reasonable cancellation penalty.
- The tenant is responsible for full payment of rent and utilities on the date they fall due.
Tenant’s rights and responsibilities – maintenance of the property
While it is the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the property fit for the purpose for which it was let, the tenant is responsible for maintaining the property in the good condition it was given to them – fair wear and tear accepted.
With a clear lease agreement in place, and proper communication between tenant and landlord, it is possible to have a successful rental relationship, as long as both parties carry their weight in terms of their respective rights and responsibilities.
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