What are residential tenant rights?

In this article, we outline tenant rights & responsibilities of residential landlords, including deposit refunds and ‘fair wear and tear’.

The relationship between landlords and tenants can be stormy, with tenants often feeling they are at the mercy of inconsiderate property owners.

However, the rules for both landlords and tenants are clearly spelled out in the Rental Housing Act 50 of 1999 (RHA) which provides for dispute resolution by the Rental Housing Tribunal.

Lease agreement

“A clearly-worded rental lease agreement will go a long way towards clarifying the responsibilities of landlords and tenants so that disputes are kept to a minimum,” says Private Property Brand & Marketing Executive, Tracey Lee Miller.

“It is not yet a legal requirement for the lease agreement to be in writing, but a verbal lease agreement may be difficult to prove in the event of any disputes. In terms of the RHA, a landlord must provide the tenant with a written lease agreement if the tenant requests one.”

The lease should clearly state the obligations of the landlord and tenant.

Landlords must:

• Provide everything necessary for tenants to use and enjoy the property, for example, the keys and garage remotes.

• Maintain the property in good order and working condition for the duration of the lease agreement.

• Ensure the tenants’ undisturbed use and enjoyment of the property – ensuring privacy – unless repairs are necessary, or inspections are being conducted.

• Invest tenant deposits in an interest-bearing account for the duration of the lease. At the end of the lease, the landlord must pay over to the tenant all the interest earned in addition to the original deposit, after any deductions for damages. The refund must be paid out within seven days of the final inspection if no repairs are needed, or within 14 days of repairs being completed.

Tenants must:

• Pay the agreed rent to the landlord on the agreed date and by the method specified in the lease agreement.

• Take due care of the property and not use it for any other purpose than that for which it was leased, such as running a business.

• Timeously report any defects.

• Return the property in the same condition as it was in when they moved in – except for reasonable wear and tear.

• Vacate the property on termination of the lease agreement.

Rental deposits

“At the heart of many disputes between landlords and tenants is the failure by landlords to return tenants’ deposits at the end of the lease,” says Miller.

At the end of the lease period, the landlord and tenant should arrange a joint inspection of the property to check whether any damage was caused to the property.

However, if the landlord doesn’t inspect the property in the presence of the tenants, the RHA says: “This is regarded as an acknowledgement by the landlord that the property is in a good and proper state of repair, and the landlord will have no further claim against the tenant, who must then be refunded the full deposit plus interest by the landlord”.

The RHA specifies that landlords are only entitled to deduct the “reasonable cost” of repairing damage caused during the lease period to the property, as well as the cost of replacing any lost keys. The relevant receipts which provide evidence of the landlord’s repair costs for those items must be made available to tenants for inspection.

Landlords may not charge tenants for maintenance, for instance, when wear and tear causes a geyser to burst or a pipe to leak. If tenants damage fittings or furnishings with a limited lifespan, they aren’t liable for the full replacement value unless the items are brand new. So for example, if a stained carpet that is already halfway through its lifespan has to be replaced, the landlord can only claim 50% of the replacement cost of the carpet from the tenants.

If both parties obey the rules and regulations outlined in the Rental Housing Act, there is really no reason why landlords and tenants would part acrimoniously with expensive lawsuits afterwards.