Where does the responsibility fall to ensure a property on the rental market meets the demands of a society where crime is an unfortunate reality?
“Security is top of mind for many tenants when selecting a home,” says Shaun du Bois of Just Property.
Tenants with a choice between properties are likely to choose the one with better security, even if it comes at a premium. In a competitive rental market, it is clearly in the landlord’s interests to ensure his or her property is secure, and therefore more attractive to tenants. What may be less obvious is that the tenant also has a legal responsibility to do so.
“The Rental Housing Act and Unfair Practices Regulations require the landlord to offer a property both ‘reasonably fit’ for the purpose for which it is being let, and habitable. In addition, the property is the landlord’s asset and, in many scenarios, the tenant may be contractually prohibited from making security improvements to the property. The tenant certainly has an interest in keeping his or her goods and family safe, and if they have concerns or discussions regarding any improvements to security these should be concluded and then reduced to writing before the signing the lease,” says Du Bois.
“Most landlords will agree to either covering some of the cost or will allow the tenant to make upgrades on condition that the property is restored to its original condition on the termination of the lease, or that any improvements remain once tenant vacates the property. It is in the landlord’s interests to have a happy tenant who is secure.”
Du Bois notes that South Africa has a diverse range of properties – in one area, a property with a locking door may be ‘fit for purpose’ and ‘habitable’ but in more affluent areas, tenants paying much higher rentals will consider far more, even armed guards.
Opinions will differ on what is ‘fit for purpose’, and here insurance policies provide some clues as to what are considered the minimum requirements in terms of security. In most cases, premiums will increase if the property does not boast an alarm and burglar guards or gates on opening windows and doors.
It is essential that tenants discuss this with their landlord before signing the lease, and add a clause covering the agreement to the lease, says Du Bois.
“This is an important point because the tenant is liable for insuring their own goods on and in the property. With regards to actual damage to the property itself, such as doors, it is not the tenant’s property, and so they cannot insure it. In most cases, the landlord is liable for any damage to the property unless the tenant was negligent, and the tenant must be responsible for insuring their own personal goods.”
Once a tenant moves in he or she must ensure that the property is at all times secure, both to protect their goods and the landlord’s asset.
“For example, should the property be vandalised – say, copper piping is stolen while a tenant is away on holiday – the tenant may well be held liable if they didn’t take steps to ensure the property was secure,” Du Bois warns.
Du Bois says it is important that tenants remember to advise their insurance companies of a change in their address.
“If you don’t let them know you’ve moved, you may have no cover,” he says.
“Crime is an unfortunate reality, and tenants rightly make their family’s security a priority. It makes sense for landlords to provide a high level of security. A reputable and experienced agent will always advise their landlords on the benefits of fulfilling their obligations and adding security measures that will attract more tenants,” says Du Bois.