Rental relations: Who’s responsible for what?

In an ideal world, rental relationships should benefit both landlord and tenant. To support this goal, the government has implemented detailed legislation in the form of the Rental Housing Act which outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parties.

“The precise division of responsibilities between a landlord and their tenant – particularly around maintenance – does vary slightly from lease to lease, depending on negotiated conditions. “That said, you usually can’t negotiate away your legal rights and obligations, making it just as important to familiarise yourself with the requirements of the Rental Housing Act as it is to read and understand the requirements of your lease agreement.”

Tenant responsibilities

Rental Housing Act places three main responsibilities on tenants’ shoulders:

  • Pay a deposit (if requested by the landlord) of an amount to be agreed upon in the lease.
  • Pay rent, and any other costs listed in the lease agreement (e.g. electricity, water, domestic services etc.), on time and in full. There is no legislated “grace period”.
  • Participate in an incoming and outgoing inspection with the landlord (or their appointed representative).

“The inspection requirements are particularly important to understand. “If a tenant fails to attend an inspection, they cannot contest the results, which means they could be held liable for damages that were not of their doing. Likewise, if the landlord fails to perform an inspection, they cannot hold the tenant liable for any damages they find down the line.”

When it comes to tenant’s maintenance responsibilities,  legislation is minimal. Most lease agreements will contain similar “common law” requirements, however. These include the expectation that tenants will return the property in the same condition they received it – minus normal fair wear and tear – or foot the bill for any repairs and remediations if they fail to do so.

“Tenants are also generally expected to handle basic maintenance tasks like pool and garden care, replacement of consumables like lightbulbs and tap washers, and good home hygiene,” she says. “Remember, just because these details are laid out in your lease agreement rather than government legislation doesn’t mean they are any less enforceable.”

Landlord responsibilities

Landlords are legally obligated to:

  • Ensure the property they are renting out is fit for human habitation, posing no threat to the life, healthy, safety personal property or general welfare of its tenants.
  • Provide the tenant with undisturbed enjoyment of the property, giving fair warning before any inspection or maintenance is carried out.
  • Supply a copy of any applicable “house rules” as defined by the property’s body corporate, HOA or other.
  • Maintain any common property (e.g. communal lifts, stairs, gardens etc.) in a good state of repair.
  • Maintain the exterior structure of the property, including walls and roofs.
  • Ensure any electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and/or elevator systems are in a good state of repair at the start of the lease.
  • Repair any damage caused by fair wear and tear (normal, everyday use of the property).
  • Provide municipal bins (or alternative waste disposal containers and services).
  • Fulfil any additional responsibilities/services laid out in the lease agreement.
  • Effect any repairs for which they are responsible as soon as possible after receiving notification (at their own cost, unless the repairs are due negligence of tenants or their visitors).
  • Keep the tenant’s deposit in an interest-bearing account and provide statements on request.
  • Provide receipts for all payments made by the tenant.
  • Keep receipts for all repairs done to the property that have been deducted from the deposit.
  • Return the balance of the deposit (plus interest) to the tenant within 14 days of expiry of the lease if repairs are required, or 7 days if no repairs are necessary.

“Remember, as a landlord, it’s in your best interests to keep good tenants happy and your property in excellent condition. “Doing so will reduce vacancies, improve income stability, maintain rental growth potential and enhance your property’s resale value – all vital elements of optimising your investment yield.”

“Prospective tenants should also be able to provide good references from any previous landlords and compile all the information and paperwork they may need to complete a rental application before they start house hunting. This includes a list of previous addresses, their bank account details, ID document, employer information, and recent payslips.

“They should also have the funds immediately available to pay a deposit, usually equivalent to a full month’s rent, and any water and electricity supply connection fees that are required. If they have to wait for a previous landlord to return a deposit, before they can afford to pay a new landlord, they may well lose out.”

In addition, while they should be very clear about their absolute “must haves” in a rental home – and what they really don’t want – they should try to be flexible on the rest of their criteria so that they can make a quick decision when necessary,