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Inspect the property carefully before signing a lease

Disagreements over security deposits often lead to major disputes between landlords and tenants, but can, in most cases, easily be avoided.

The deposit is supposed to protect the landlord against loss of rent if the tenant decides to do a moonlight run, and against any damage a tenant may do to the property, says Tobie Fourie, Chas Everitt national rentals manager.

If a tenant has always paid rent on time and has kept the property in good condition, they should get their full deposit back at the end of the lease. “Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The answer is for both parties to pay careful attention to the condition of the property and terms of the agreement before the lease is signed.”

As a start, Fourie says, a very detailed list of any existing damage and defects in the house or flat should be drawn up, using precise wording to describe any exceptions to “clean and undamaged”. A photographic record is even better. Areas for particularly close attention should include:

Door locks: Do they turn easily, have they been replaced since the last tenant left, and are the keys there?

Walls: Are they marked, scratched or cracked? Is the paintwork good?

Ceilings: Are there signs of a leaking roof or geyser?

Plumbing: Are taps or pipes leaking (check under the kitchen sink) and are drains clear?

Wall and floor tiles: Are they all firmly in place and undamaged?

Carpets: Are they torn, frayed, burned or stained?

Windows: Do they close properly? Are there broken or cracked panes?

If all these details are carefully noted and the list is then signed by the tenant and the landlord (or his agent), there should be little cause for misunderstandings later.

Tenants must read their leases carefully so they know how much notice they have to give before they leave, and how far in advance, Fourie says. They should get written acknowledgement from their landlord that their notice was received, and set up an appointment for an “exit inspection”. They should then make sure the property looks the way it did when they took occupation, or better.

“Patch holes made for picture hooks, paint walls back to the original colour (unless the landlord likes your new colours), and clean the place before the exit inspection, and preferably after you’ve removed your belongings.

“The landlord can’t keep any of your deposit to repair general wear and tear, especially if you’ve been a tenant for a long time. But he can use it, or part of it, to cover the replacement or repair of anything you damaged during your tenancy.”

Most disputes arise at this point, when parties disagree about when certain damage was done.

“This is when it becomes important for a tenant to be able to refer to the descriptions and photos obtained during your initial inspection of the property and prove exactly what it looked like before you moved in.”

It is also vital to take notes and photos when you move out to prevent damage after your exit being blamed on you.

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