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Property damage and rental deposits

Many of the cases seen at the Rental Tribunal are those where a landlord feels that his property has been damaged and he wants to claim from the tenant via the security deposit. But in order to for him to succeed, he has to prove that the tenant is in the wrong or he won’t have a case.

It has to be remembered that whatever law gives the greatest protection to the tenant at present is the law that stands, and if the landlord cannot physically prove there was damage done to the property, there is little chance that he can legally claim money from the tenant.

This is according to Annette Evans, regional general manager of the Institute of Estate Agents, Western Cape, who says landlords and managing agents must remember that when a new tenant moves into rented premises, the incoming and outgoing inspections must be done as early as possible and should be backed up by photographs of each room or items of interest.

If there are any claims for damage done to the property in the future, and there is no proof of the original state the property was in, the landlord will not be able to claim for these damages from the deposit.

Evans says it has to be remembered that whatever law gives the greatest protection to the tenant at present is the law that stands, and if the landlord cannot physically prove there was damage done to the property, there is little chance that he can legally claim money from the tenant.

The ingoing inspection should be done before the keys are handed over and if the tenant finds any fault with any part of the unit he is renting, he should report this right away so that it can be noted and possible repairs done before or as soon as possible after he takes occupation.

It is easy to store digital photos of a unit with a copy of the lease, so this should be kept by the managing agent, for reference later.

There should also be regular inspections during the lease period so that any faults can be reported by the tenant or any damage can be picked up by the agent. If there is regular contact between the agent, landlord and tenant, there is probably less chance of any problems arising or not being picked up. Evans says regular contact is important because then the landlord is reassured that his property is being looked after properly.

She says the outgoing inspection should be done a couple of weeks before the tenant is due to vacate the property, as this gives him enough time to remedy anything that is wrong or has been damaged before he moves out.  The last walkthrough on the day could possibly include the landlord being present so that everything can be discussed with all parties present.

“While all these steps seem simple enough, there are still cases where inspections have not been done or there are discrepancies as to what has been damaged and what was in bad condition originally.  Following all the steps above helps eliminate the chance of disputes from the tenant’s or landlord’s point of view.”

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