Rental property maintenance on a shoestring budget

Rental property maintenance on a shoestring budget

Private Property South Africa
Sarah-Jane Meyer

For many landlords, the past two years have been tough. However, it's still essential to keep up with maintenance tasks. Minor problems can become big ones - and ignoring them can be far more costly than attending to them at the start.

Maintaining standards

In terms of the Rental Housing Act, landlords must provide tenants with a dwelling in a habitable condition. They must also maintain the existing structure of the dwelling and, where possible, facilitate the provision of basic services to the dwelling.

In other words, says Just Property chief executive Paul Stevens, the owner has to maintain the property properly and ensure that regular running repairs to the property are carried out timeously.

For example, exterior and interior walls need to be painted regularly, roofs waterproofed, and pool pumps need to be serviced. In addition, some structural problems, such as poor quality waterproofing, can cause severe issues, like damp, which are potential health risks.

"Failure to attend to these maintenance obligations can result in the property not being habitable. In addition, this will expose the landlord to the risk of damages claims by tenants,” says property law expert and SSLR Inc Managing Director Cilna Steyn.

She says that landlords also need to take ownership of utility bills and ensure that they are paid.

“Although tenants use the utilities at a rental property, most municipalities require utility bills to be registered to the property owners. Unpaid water or electricity bills can lead to services being suspended, and the knock-on effect can damage the upkeep and maintenance of a property. An example, gardens may go unwatered, or security systems may be inoperable.”

Saving on maintenance

Stevens advises that "Landlords can save money by doing maintenance themselves. But where the risks are high or technical skills are required, you should never compromise. Applying particularly to electricity, water and security repairs and maintenance.”

Steyn adds: "Remember, failing to attend to property maintenance will leave landlords in breach of the lease agreement terms - even if these terms are only implied terms of the lease agreement and not written in the lease document.

“When you breach the lease agreement, your tenants have full right to place you on terms, allowing you a specific period of time to remedy the breach. Should you fail to remedy the breach as demanded, the tenants will be entitled to either cancel the lease agreement and claim damages or force specific performance of the lease agreement."

Tenant responsibilities

Tenants have responsibilities too.

In general, tenants must take good care of the rental property and not use it for purposes other than for which it was rented. And on termination of the lease, tenants must restore the property to the condition it was when they moved in, allowing for fair wear and tear.

It's a grey area of what constitutes fair wear and tear and is often at the centre of landlord and tenant disputes.

Steyn says: “Fair wear and tear would be the expected damage a property undergoes when people live in it without causing accidental or malicious damage. In other words, the natural deterioration of a building over time without any accidental or malicious damage.”

Repainting a building's interior and exterior is usually required every five to seven years. The landlord would be responsible for this. However, tenants would be responsible for painting walls with children’s drawings or walls with nails or hooks to hang pictures. Similarly, everyday wear on a carpet due to walking on it would need to be replaced by the landlord. But tenants would need to replace carpets they have burnt or stained while occupying the property.

If landlords are slow to carry out maintenance and repairs, damage may be caused or aggravated, which is not the tenants’ fault. However, tenants are responsible for promptly alerting landlords or their agents to any defects before they become costly problems.

“If tenants are unsure whether they or the landlord are responsible for fixing a problem, the best option is to be open with the landlord or rental agent,” says Stevens.

“Arguments about such issues can sour the landlords and tenants relationship. Therefore it's advisable to work through an intermediary, like a rental agent or a property management agency. These professionals should have a wealth of experience in such matters. They can advise who is responsible for what and send out trusted professionals to deal with any problems.”

The tenant and landlord relationship can be complex at times, but the common interest remains the property's condition. Maintaining it even on a shoestring budget should therefore be a priority.

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