Understanding the Role of the Rental Agent

Private Property South Africa

Many landlords choose to enlist the specialised services of a rental agent when letting a property - not only can efficient rental agents assist with the tenant-screening process, but they can also help ensure that the landlord receives rent timeously and regularly.

However, a rental agent's involvement with the tenant can vary greatly depending on his mandate with the landlord - and it's important that tenants understand exactly what that mandate entails and what kind of information they should expect agents to disclose.

The MD of TPN Credit Bureau, a specialist tenant credit bureau, Michelle Dickens, explained: "In most cases the rental agent is there to advertise a property on behalf of the landlord, to arrange property viewings with prospective tenants and assume the responsibility of the application process, which includes acquiring supporting documents from the tenant and conducting the appropriate tenant and credit checks."

However, as Dickens further pointed out, sometimes the agreement between the rental agent and landlord extends beyond this, such that the rental agent is the party who invoices the tenant and collects the rent. In cases in which the property in question is for full management of the property, the rental agent will act on the instruction of the landlord and become involved with inspections and maintenance issues.

If a potential tenant is about to view a property that is managed by a rental agent, it's important that he understands that the agent is obliged to find the most suitable tenant for the property and present the landlord with the application, lease and credit report. The prospective tenant should take care to ask the rental agent questions that relate to all aspects of the property that could potentially cause frustration. For example: faulty infrastructure, traffic, noise pollution and crime levels, to name a few.

Once the lease is signed, it is extremely important for tenants who are dealing with rental agents on matters concerning maintenance and repairs, to note though that the rental agent is essentially there to see to the landlord's interests and acts on instruction from the landlord. As such, it is up to the tenant to read his lease agreement carefully and establish where exactly the maintenance responsibly of the landlord lies and where his own obligations lie, as these can vary greatly depending on the specific terms of the agreement. "A tenant who feels that the landlord is not meeting his contractual obligations should ultimately lodge a complaint with the Rental Housing Tribunal," advised Dickens. "A word of caution: tenants who withhold rent in an attempt to get the landlord's attention only add breach of lease to their own record, which will negatively impact on their credit record. It also becomes more difficult for the rental agent to motivate the landlord to complete any required maintenance."

Taking into account that rental agents play a vital role in determining who ends up letting the landlord's property, it's extremely important for the landlord to select a professional in possession of a current Fidelity Fund Certificate. "Further due diligence should include what other professional bodies the rental agent belongs to, such as credit bureaux, property management systems, training level and qualifications," added Dickens.

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