Moving into your first rented apartment? Know your rights before signing the lease agreement

There is little as exciting as leaving the nest and moving into your own rented apartment. Whether you’re moving in with your best friend, partner or taking the plunge on your own, there is plenty to look forward to.

It’s a thrilling experience and, if done right, you’ll have the happiest moving experience yet.

Beyond the excitement and nerves, you’ll need to take on new responsibilities. You will need to have a clear understanding of what to look out for when it comes to signing a lease agreement.

Because once you’ve signed on the dotted line, it’s very difficult to retract your words or year-long commitment.

Before you can make any impulsive decisions, do your homework and look around. Set a budget and start viewing apartments in advance. Often, an online advertisement can seem too good to be true. These are the ones that you need to be wary of. While the digital age is helpful and less time-consuming when looking for an apartment deal in your area, take the time to sieve through the market before you fall victim to a scam.

Once you’ve found your dream apartment and have applied for a viewing, make sure you do your research to better understand your rights and obligations as a tenant. While the estate agent or owner might be an open-book, verbal agreements are risky and worthless when an issue arises.

Here are a few tips to consider before signing your lease agreement:

  • Make sure you get the agreement in writing

If you’ve developed a friendly relationship with the person you’re leasing from, that’s a plus, but it’s not enough to secure a verbal agreement on specifics. For professional and security purposes, make sure that everything is in writing so that you don’t have the possibility of miscommunication. If you’re communicating with someone and you want to know the legal structures around a lease agreement, you can consult with a professional about possible lease agreement templates in South Africa.

Generally, a lease agreement for a residential property runs from six to twelve months at a time, and it includes the rental amount, a list of existing defects relating to the property, the landlord’s apartment rental rules and regulations as well an inventory of the furniture and contents of the property. If you choose to renew your contract, they will advise you on the process via lease or email communication.

  • The importance of a snag list

Before your move-in date, the landlord or agent usually sets up an inspection meeting for you to go through the apartment together and put together a “snag list” of the items that are either faulty or missing. This will be a good opportunity for you to discuss who takes responsibility for any damaged items. It’s also important to record any defect on the property with the leaser (on paper or via photographic imagery) so that they’re aware of the problems that the property holds before you move in. This inspection is vital, no matter how insignificant it may feel, because it will protect you from any potential claims that could affect you in the future. Anything beyond that list or discussion could fall on your head unless stated otherwise.

  • Pay the deposit to the landlord

It depends on the agent or landlord, but you are usually required to pay one or two months’ rent which will be paid over to you once you move out. If, however, something should happen to the property where you are held responsible for the damages, most lease agreements agree to the deposit money being used for those situations. Tenants may not refuse to pay the last month’s rent in lieu of their refund.

  • Understanding the notice period if you decide to cancel the lease

Make sure you understand your exit and what your responsibilities are when it comes to letting the landlord or the agent know about you wanting to leave. The most common cancellation period is one to two calendar months, but it depends on the structure of your lease agreement. If you choose to leave with months left on your lease agreement, you will need to find someone fit enough to take over your lease.

  • Obligations to the landlord

The key obligation is to make sure that you pay your rent every month, on time. You also need to ensure that, whenever you leave the apartment, you will need to leave it as it was when you arrived. And if you choose to renovate and the landlord does not agree to it, remember that those additions or renovations will stay that way once you leave. It’s the finer details that can make a big difference, so make sure you read through everything before you sign on the dotted line. And your landlord’s obligation to you is to always make sure that the property is in good condition, and everything is getting paid for as stated.

  • Subletting the property

Subletting is an agreement that needs to be discussed with the landlord themselves. It simply cannot be done without their permission. So, if you’re renting alone and feel that two or three months down the line, you would like to rent the room out because of financial challenges, then you will need to set a meeting with the landlord and make sure they agree to your request before you confirm with whoever is interested.

Final words

As you can see, there is a lot of thought that goes into finding an apartment that fits your needs and requirements. Before you make any decision to sign a lease agreement, you need to have the above mapped out as these finer details could cause issues in months to come. Apart from the nitty-gritty, moving into your first apartment is a wonderful and exciting experience. Make the most of it.