How to get your rental deposit back

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Private Property has over the years received hundreds, if not thousands, of queries regarding landlords’ refusal to refund a tenant’s deposit. While there are of course usually two sides to every story, it stands to reason that there are some landlords who do withhold deposits without solid reasons for doing so.

Tenants need to protect their interests and make every effort to document the condition of the home at the time of occupation. Inspecting the home with either the landlord or his agent is imperative and care should be taken to note every fault in writing. It's always a good idea to back this up with photographs or a video of the damages or problem areas and to supply the relevant person with a copy of the snag list as well as the photographic evidence.

Some landlords are prone to brushing off the complaints and usually give some vague, verbal promise to fix the faults at a later stage. Tenants should view this type of landlord with caution and insist that everything is reduced to writing at the time of the inspection.

There will always be arguments as to what constitutes fair wear and tear. However, it stands to reason that the landlord cannot expect a tenant to pay for a complete new paint job when that person has lived on the premises for years. Property needs to be maintained, regardless of who lives there, and for this reason landlords may not hold a tenant liable for things that have worn out or that have weathered over time.

When a tenant moves out, he must insist on an outgoing inspection with either the landlord or his agent. Again, tenants should not allow a landlord to fob off this request and agree to the inspection being conducted at a later stage, or without him being present. Tenants should request that the original snag list as well as other evidence be brought to the inspection and that any additional faults incurred during the lease period be recorded and, if necessary, photographed.

Tenants who are intent on having their deposits refunded in full should view the property with a critical eye before moving out. The home should be thoroughly cleaned, the walls washed and any holes caused by nails or hooks should be patched. Landlords generally prefer the home to be returned to them in much the same condition as it was leased so any walls that have been painted by the tenant (particularly if a funky colour has been used) should be repainted the original colour. Fixtures such as light fittings and ceiling fans should be replaced if broken. The oven should be clean, with all the shelves in place.

While you may well find that your landlord tries to pull a fast one by attempting to claim for damages that weren't incurred by you, having a well-documented paper trail that includes before and after pictures is going to help you build a strong case should the matter end in arbitration at the Rental Housing Tribunal.

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