Get It In Writing

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

When it comes to renting a property, it is vital to have all agreements and conditions reduced to writing in the lease agreement. Simply assuming that because something has been agreed upon verbally it is a done deal can have drastic consequences for all concerned and can rapidly turn into a 'he says, she says' type of argument.

If, for example, a landlord states that the rental price includes water and electricity, ask for that information to be included in the lease agreement. Tenants should never make assumptions, as was noted recently by a Private Property reader who wrote in to tell us his story. The reader had rented the same property for six years and was of the understanding that the rental fee included electricity. During the time he lived on the premises, he never received an electricity account and never had the supply disconnected.

However when the home was sold, the managing agent called the reader and informed him he owed the landlord six years’ worth of electricity consumption. To put this into perspective, a tenant who used a paltry R300 worth of electricity each month would be in for a bill of R21 600 at the end of the six-year period. A sobering thought indeed.

This is an extreme example, given that the tenant was completely unaware that he was supposedly responsible for the account and that the matter had gone on for six years without him being aware of the additional charges accruing. One would assume that from a legal perspective, the landlord has little chance of recouping this money via the courts simply because of the time frame involved. However, the problem would never have arisen at all had the landlord and tenant signed a lease agreement that included a clause clearly laying out who was responsible for the electricity account in the first place.

Many rental disputes can be avoided if the landlord and tenant are on the same page, both literally and figuratively. Any additional services that are to be paid by the landlord must be documented, including such extras as electricity costs, garden services, water charges and pool cleaning services. If the terms of the lease change over the years, it is absolutely vital to have those changes noted in any subsequent lease agreements - regardless of how good the relationship between the landlord and tenant is.

Never rely on the word of a third party. While an estate agent may well have a mandate to rent out a property, he doesn't have the right to give undertakings without the landlords permission. Do not take an agents word for it and insist that any additional services that he says are included in the rental are reflected in the lease agreement.

Read over the lease agreement carefully before signing and if confused about certain aspects ask the landlord or agent to clarify. Remember that we are not all lawyers and as such do not necessarily understand the legal jargon often contained in lease agreements. You have every right to understand what you are signing and the decision to question may save you a great deal of money in the future.

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