Crime is an unfortunate reality of living in South Africa and is one of the main priorities for tenants when looking for rental accommodation. But, is the landlord or tenant responsible for providing security?
Tenants with a choice between properties are likely to choose the one with better security, even if it comes at a premium. In a competitive rental market, it is clearly in the landlord’s interests to ensure his property is secure and therefore more attractive to tenants. What may be less obvious is that he also has a legal responsibility to do so.
“The Rental Housing Act and Unfair Practices Regulations require the landlord to offer a property both ‘reasonably fit’ for the purpose for which it is being let, and habitable,” says Shaun du Bois of Just Property. “In addition, the property is the landlord’s asset and, in many scenarios, the tenant may be contractually prohibited from making security improvements to the property. The tenant certainly has an interest in keeping his goods and family safe and if he has concerns, discussions regarding any improvements to security should be concluded and then reduced to writing before the he signs the lease.
Read more: Ensure your security before signing a lease
“Most landlords will agree to either covering some of the cost or will allow the tenant to make upgrades on condition that the property is restored to its original condition on the termination of the lease, or that any improvements remain once the tenant vacates the property. It is in the landlord’s interests to have a happy tenant who is secure.”
du Bois notes that South Africa has a diverse range of properties – in one area, a property with a locking door may be "fit for purpose" and “habitable” but in more affluent areas, tenants paying much higher rentals will consider far more, even armed guards.
Opinions will differ on what is “fit for purpose” and here insurance policies provide some clues as to what are considered the minimum requirements in terms of security. In most cases, premiums will increase if the property does not boast an alarm, and burglar guards or gates on opening windows and doors.
It is essential that tenants discuss this with their landlord before signing the lease, and add a clause covering the agreement to the lease, says du Bois. This is an important point because the tenant is liable for insuring his own goods on and in the property. du Bois says that Just Property leases are very clear on this point. With regards to actual damage to the property itself, such as doors. It is not the tenant's property and so he cannot insure it. In most cases, the landlord is liable for any damage to the property unless the tenant was negligent and the tenant must be responsible for insuring their own personal goods.”
Once a tenant moves in he must ensure that the property is at all times secure, both to protect his goods and the landlord’s asset. “For example, should the property be vandalised – say, copper piping is stolen while a tenant is away on holiday – the tenant may well be held liable if he didn’t take steps to ensure the property was secure,” du Bois warns.
du Bois adds that it is important that tenants remember to advise their insurance companies of a change in their address. “If you don’t let them know you’ve moved, you may have no cover.”
“Crime is an unfortunate reality and tenants rightly make their family’s security a priority,” du Bois concludes. “It makes sense for landlords to provide a high level of security. A reputable and experienced agent will always advise their landlords on the benefits of fulfilling their obligations and adding security measures that will attract more tenants.”