Leases: what tenants should know

Before signing the rental lease, know what's expected of you - expert.

So often we hear of tenants who refuse to pay rent because something is wrong with the property they are living in and the landlord has failed to fix it. spoke to Karien Hunter, attorney from AMC Hunter Inc in Durban, on what one needs to know about a lease.

She says a lease is a contract which binds both parties. When signing a lease, the landlord is obliged to make the property available to the tenant and the tenant is obliged to pay the monthly rental.

Hunter urges tenants to keep a paper trail of all communication they have with the landlord. Confirm discussions and agreements in writing, either via an email or short message service (sms).

This makes it easier to hold the landlord to any undertakings the landlord may have given the tenant.

It is important for tenants to understand the terms of the lease fully to avoid having unnecessary arguments with the landlord.

In cases where tenants have not understood the lease, they are known to allow the landlord to evict them without a court order. In legal terms, the landlord is not permitted to take the law into his own hands and can only act in accordance with a court order.

As firing is not an option when you have a landlord, know your rights. Both parties - not just the tenant - are bound by the lease, whether oral or written.

She explains that if the landlord breached the lease, by for example, not maintaining the property and it becomes inhabitable, the tenant may in certain circumstances withhold the rental.

The other option is to move out of the property and try and find another tenant to take over their obligations in terms of the lease.

Some important things to know about a lease:

  • The landlord must furnish the tenant with a written receipt of all payments.
  • Check to make sure the rental deposit is invested in an interest bearing account by the landlord. The tenant is entitled to the interest on it.
  • The tenant and the landlord must inspect the leased premises jointly before the tenant moves in to ascertain the existence of any defects with a view to the landlord attending to any such defects as the parties may agree.
  • Upon termination of the lease, the parties must jointly inspect the premises, at least three days before the lease expires.
  • Where a verbal lease was concluded and the parties did not agree on the duration of the lease, either party can give the other a month's notice in terms of the common law.
  • A rental deposit is there to protect the landlord against damage to a property and tenants cannot refuse to pay the last month's rental on the basis that this must be off-set against the deposit.
  • The landlord does not have access to the leased premises other than to inspect damage.
  • The landlord may not sell the leased premises other than in terms of the agreement whereby the tenant will remain on until the end of the lease in terms of the common law principle ‘huur gaat voor koop'. This means the sale of the property cannot affect the tenancy and the lease remains in place for its full duration.

Article by: Denise Mhlanga -