In the South African property market today, says Tony Clarke, Managing Director of the Rawson Property Group, there are numerous systems for checking the track record and financial standing of a potential tenant – and these are widely used because they have proved highly effective.
However, says Clarke, there is no sure fire system with which a tenant or an agent can check a landlord’s performance as yet – and the sad truth, he says, is that, although they are still a small minority, the property market does have its share of bad landlords or at the very least those with whom the average tenant would not want to be associated.
‘We have read a great deal about tenants’ responsibilities and it has to be recognised, however, that landlords have responsibilities too. They should be committed to ensuring that the accommodation they offer is in good condition, working order and offers a fair deal for the price they are being paid for it.
“It is also the landlord’s duty to listen to the tenant’s complaints and to maintain the property and this means regularly repainting and re-carpeting whenever necessary as well as on-going repairing of the electrics and plumbing.”
‘Extra’ upmarket features such as swimming pool pumps and filters, Jacuzzis, trampolines, built-in gas braais, air-conditioning and automatic garden irrigation systems, says Clarke, tend to need more maintenance than other features, but landlords are prone to thinking that, as they are indeed extras, they do not need to attend to them regularly or fix them when they break.
“Our experience in the property world,” says Clarke, “shows that bad landlords are characterized by arrogance and insensitivity to their clients’ predicaments. They are often also ignorant of property law and, regrettably, may be in debt at a level which they cannot manage.”
Such landlords, says Clarke, have a tendency to enter the property without the 24 hour warning usually necessary in these circumstances and they will also often hold onto a deposit illegally once the lease has expired and the tenant has left. To do this they will exaggerate the so-called damages and normal wear and tear (which in any case are for their account) and will charge heavily for the ‘reinstatement’ of the unit. Such landlords, he says, should note that tenant complaints to the Rental Tribunal have by and large been vindicated and tenants have recently achieved a number of historic victories.
“Any preconception that a landlord is still a privileged individual with the whip handle firmly in his own hand has been destroyed,” says Clarke.
Clarke warns tenants against independent deals with landlords in which no agent is involved. In such deals the tenant is especially vulnerable and they should take caution in these kinds of dealings.
“I always advise tenants,” says Clarke, “to seek out properties that are managed by a reputable agency - but for those who are set on renting straight from a landlord, I recommend that they request the details of previous tenants and contact them with the hope of finding out how the landlord conducts himself once the lease is signed.”
It should also be noted, adds Clarke, that many landlords today are opting for procurement leases instead of managed leases. What this means is that an agent is paid a once off fee in the beginning and only involved in the initial stages of securing the tenant but is completely uninvolved thereafter.
“When things go wrong in the rental property or with the landlord in these cases,” says Clarke, “the tenant is often inclined to go to the agent with complaints, only to find out that the he is unable to help out in any way.”