May 19 2017



Tags: renting  rental agreement  lease agreement  landlords  tenants  renting property 

What You Should Know Before Signing a Lease Agreement
Finding your perfect dream apartment may first involve a few quick checks.

House hunting can be a rather stressful time. Finding your dream home or the perfect apartment may not happen overnight, so when one does become available that checks off most of your dream home requirements, it is important that you know exactly what you are signing up for before you commit yourself.

Whether signing a lease agreement for 6 months or for a year, it is important to start off on the right foot, so as to avoid any potential problems further down the road. The relationship between the landlord and tenant is two-way. Just as a tenant may be evicted for breaking certain house rules or breach of contract, so too is the landlord expected to make necessary repairs and regularly maintain the property that they lease out every month.

Before signing the rental agreement, here are a few things you should keep in mind:

1. Read Your Lease Agreement Carefully

A lease is a binding, legal contract between landlord and tenant. Once you have signed it, you are bound to that property for the duration of the lease and you might have difficulty negotiating after this. It is better to be sure that you will be happy in your new home before signing the agreement.

A lease agreement can also be wound up in a lot of jargon and legal terms, so it is important to fully read (not skim through) and understand everything before signing. If there is anything that you are unclear about, you should ask the landlord to explain this to you in laymans terms before you commit yourself, rather than find yourself in a difficult predicament further down the road.

2. Make Note of Any Pre-Existing Damages.

Some landlords may not take the time to make basic repairs before advertising the property for rental. As unethical as this may be, it should also be the tenant's responsibility to check and make note of these things, before committing to the rental contract. For example, it is expected by any renter that basic services, such as the plumbing and electricity of the property are in a safe and working order, before a landlord advertises the property for rent.

It is also just as important to take note of any pre-existing damages to a property and to make note of and present them to the landlord in writing, before signing the lease agreement. These damages could range from paint peeling away from the walls, a leaky tap, ceiling dampness, cracked floor tiles, or stain marks on the carpet. Remember, you could be held responsible for these damages or risk losing your security deposit, even if these damages were not caused by you, so it is best to get these documented before signing.

3. Find out What is and what is not included in Your Rental Amount.

Some landlords incorporate basic utility fees into the rental amount, such as electricity, water and garbage removal, while other landlords install meter boxes for the tenants own expense. It is important to determine exactly what you will be responsible for before moving in, as these expenses can soon add up and also to avoid any misunderstandings later on.

Many large apartment buildings have additional amenities on the premises, such as a communal swimming pool, laundry or gym facilities which may not be included in the rent, while other apartments charge an additional fee for secure or undercover parking. It is highly recommended to find out about these hidden expenses before you sign the lease agreement.

4. Customizing or Making Alterations to Your Rental Home.

It is absolutely vital to understand exactly what kind of customizing that you are allowed to make (if any). It is reasonable to assume you are allowed to knock a few nails into the wall to hang pictures, but it is always advisable to check with your landlord first, so he or she is aware of it. For any larger alterations, (which is definitely a bad idea), you should not only discuss this with your landlord first, but also get his or her permission in writing first, before investing any money in your landlord's property.

Landlords differ greatly when it comes to alterations - while some landlords may not have a problem with customizing their property, others could get you evicted!

5. Pet Policy

Pet policies are another rule which differs greatly from one place to another and from one landlord to another. While many apartment buildings have a no dogs or cats policy, you may still be allowed to keep smaller pets, such as a bird. Today, many townhouse complexes have introduced a no pet policy, but are warming up to allowing its tenants to keep one or two small dogs, while sadly cats are generally still off limits. Signing a lease agreement with a strict pet policy and trying to sneak in your pet later on is generally a bad idea!

6. Visit the Property at Different Times of the Day

When you have narrowed your home search down to just one or two properties, it is advisable to try and visit them more than once before making a final decision and if at all possible, try to visit them at different times of the day on each occasion.

Problems may not be noticeable at the time of day that you first view the property. For example, visiting during the day, when people are at work may not indicate the amount of traffic noise in the afternoon or evening, or you may find out that your west facing bedroom is unbearably hot in the afternoons. Even if you cannot view the property in the evening, try to visit the neighborhood in the evening, to see what kind of nightlife there might be, which could keep you awake at night.

7. Subletting & Subleasing

While some landlords do not allow sub-leasing at all, many landlords will allow the renter an early way out of their contract by finding a suitable tenant to take over the lease or by sub-letting the property. Sub-letting can be a great liberator, if the renter has to unexpectedly relocate and let's them do so without breaking their lease.

If possible, try to get a subleasing clause written into the lease contract. You must be clear on what is allowed and what will happen, should you decide that you want to move out before the lease expires, or hand over the keys to a new tenant.

8. If It's Not In Writing - You Could Be Held Responsible

Finally, be sure to protect yourself before singing any rental agreement. A verbal agreement from your landlord to make repairs is not binding and could come back to haunt you later on. Make note of all faults and any pre-existing damages before signing the agreement and present a physical copy to your landlord or your rental agent.

Likewise, if there are any amendments to the lease agreement, or an amended pet policy that was discussed or agreed upon with your landlord, you should get this in writing too!

View our listings of available Rental Properties in East London here!

Related Article: Guide to Renting in South Africa


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