How to spot a dodgy landlord

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

There are landlords and then there are landlords…some are good and some are just plain bad. So how do you know what you are letting yourself in for when you rent a home.

Here are some telltale signs that you could have made the wrong choice and that it may not be a good idea to renew the lease or in a case where you have yet to sign a lease, move into the property at all.

  1. Check the paperwork.
    Be wary of anyone who refuses to give you a receipt for rent or a deposit. It is also highly recommended that a written lease is in place before the tenant moves into a property. Remember leases protect both the landlord and tenant in many ways, including controlling rent escalations. Renting out property should never be done haphazardly. Both the landlord and tenant need to know exactly where they stand on all issues relating to a property.

  2. Don't accept a landlord’s word and ensure that you visit the property before handing over any money – even if a lease agreement has been signed. Online con artists are experts in getting people to part with their money by leasing out non-existent properties and the incidences of this type of fraud are on the increase.

  3. Although some landlords, particularly those who are using a rental agent may demand two months rental upfront, be wary of those who demand vast amounts of money before they will lease a property. A growing number of municipalities now insist that the owner of the property must open electricity and water accounts in their name, but this doesn't mean that a landlord should demand that tenants put down huge deposits for these services.

  4. Landlords have tax liabilities linked to rental property and all payments should be above board. Questions should be asked if a landlord insists on cash payments instead of an EFT into a bank account.

  5. Put everything in writing.
    While a tenant may enjoy a good, relaxed relationship with his landlord, renting a home is a serious matter and should always be dealt with professionally. Remember it is far easier for a tenant to prove a claim at the Rental Housing Tribunal or in court if there is a paper trial documenting how the dispute panned out. This is particularly important if there are property maintenance issues that the landlord needs to rectify.

  6. Deposits are perhaps the most contentious issue of all. A landlord may not retain a deposit without proving receipts reflecting all of the money that has been spent on repairing the damage the tenant has caused. If a landlord claims he did the work himself, the tenant should phone around and get some quotes from local handymen to ensure that he is not being ripped off. The landlord must conduct an inspection within 10 days of the property becoming vacant. Thereafter he must refund the deposit (or the reduced amount if the property has been damaged) within 21 days.

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