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5 things every tenant should know

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14 Jun 2013

Renting a property can be a daunting experience for new tenants. In the excitement of finding that perfect home, important details can be overlooked which often come back to haunt tenants when the lease ends or the relationship with the agent sours. 

In the excitement of finding that perfect home, important details can be overlooked which often come back to haunt tenants when the lease ends or the relationship with the agent sours.

Potential tenants should be equipped with as much information as possible when entering into a rental agreement, says Louw Liebenberg, CEO of PayProp, SA’s largest residential letting transactions processor.

"Like any contract the agreement is binding, and in many instances a property rental is the tenant's largest monthly financial transaction and hence should be managed carefully.” 

Liebenberg says there are five things every new tenant should know before signing on the dotted line. 

1. Is your agent a certified Estate Agent?

In South Africa, the law requires that every estate agent be issued with a Fidelity Fund Certificate (FFC) in order to be able to trade. This certificate is only valid for a year at a time and provides assurance to the consumer that he is able to claim damages from the Fidelity Fund (administered by the Estate Agency Affairs Board) should he suffer financial losses due to negligence or fraud by the agent.  

“It is illegal for an agent to conduct business without an FFC and extremely risky from the consumer’s point of view,” says Liebenberg.  “Agents are required by law to display a copy of their latest FFC in their offices.  If you don’t see one on the wall, rather walk away.” 

2. Has the agent explained to me what is going to happen to my deposit interest? 

Agents are compelled by their code of conduct to explain to you that the deposit on your interest can either accrue to you as the tenant, or, if this is not specified, will be held back by the agent who is then obliged to pay half of it to the Estate Agency Affairs Board and retain half for the agency. If the lease does not explicitly say that the tenant is to receive the interest, it won’t go to the tenant, so make sure that you have this part of the agreement in writing – preferably in the lease. 

3. Are you receiving invoices and statements? 

While the law says that a tenant must be provided with written statements when they are requested, this does not always provide adequate assurance to a tenant. Don’t feel bad about asking upfront what their communication policy is. If the agency you are dealing with doesn’t send out monthly statements and provide you with receipts when you make payments, then rather choose one that does, as this provides you with a document trail should there be any disputes at a later stage. 

4. Has the agency compiled all my information? 

Agencies are required by the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) to confirm that you are who you say you are. They are required to retain a copy of your barcoded ID document and proof of address.  Although this can at times be an irritation, the fact that an agency is asking you for these documents means that it is complying with South African regulation. An agency that is prepared to accept you without these documents is compromising on its compliance with the law before you even paid over your first cent of rent – is this really an agency you want to work with? 

5. Has the agency listed all costs I am liable for upfront? 

Typical costs that agents often pass on to tenants are items such as water and electricity, transaction fees for items such as cash deposits and costs incurred by the agency in managing the deposit on behalf of the tenant. Ask an agent upfront to ensure that absolutely all costs that you are liable for are clearly listed in the lease and do not pay for any costs that you have not agreed to upfront. 

Liebenberg says that tenants who are unsure about any interaction with their estate agent should not hesitate to call the Estate Agency Affairs Board on 011 731 5600.   

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