Rentals: Know the legalities

The rental market is a pivotal part of the residential property industry and even more so when affordability is under pressure.

However, it is vital that both tenants and landlords remain mindful of the legalities pertaining to residential letting in South Africa, says Carol Reynolds, area principal for Pam Golding Properties (PGP) in the Durban North and La Lucia areas.

“Lease agreements are not to be taken lightly, and professional service and expertise can make the difference between a pleasant experience and a tumultuous one.

“Most importantly, a lease agreement is a legally binding document, and once signed, the parties are obligated to abide by the terms of the agreement. The tenant commits for the full-term of the lease, and generally rent is due on or before the first day of every month.

“Unfortunately, the current economic situation has resulted in a large number of tenants falling into arrears with their rental payments. The correct process for a landlord to follow under these circumstances is to send a letter of demand notifying the tenant of the fact that he/she is in breach of contract, offering the tenant seven days within which to contact the landlord and to make arrangements to remedy the breach.

“If payment has not been forthcoming within 20 days, the landlord is entitled to blacklist the tenant. The blacklisting can only be removed once the debt has been settled. This has serious implications for an individual’s creditworthiness, and can hamper prospects of finding alternative premises to lease.

“If for any reason, a tenant wishes to vacate the premises prior to termination of the lease agreement, then the tenant is still liable to pay the rent, until such time as a replacement tenant has been found.”

Reynolds says other basic rules to keep in mind include the fact the deposit cannot be offset against the last month’s rental. The deposit is the landlord’s only security and is strictly to be utilised for repairs regarding any damages that may have ensued during the term of the lease. Once a lease has expired, and should the landlord and tenant then decide to enter into a month-to-month agreement, they need to inform the agent of their intentions, and the agent will normally agree to a reduced renewal fee for assisting them in regard to any legalities.

“From a landlord’s perspective, the current legislative process of evicting a problematic tenant is onerous.

“This is why it is vital to employ the services of a reputable estate agent. Landlords are fully entitled to do their homework before enlisting the services of an agent, and they should consider factors such as: experience; the reputation or track record of the estate agency and follow-up service; costs payable for services rendered; whether the agency offers credit checks and tenant screening; procedures regarding invoicing, inspections and debt-collection. Any rental disputes can be raised with the rental housing tribunal.”