Safeguard your deposit, leave your rental in a clean state

Whether you are renting a flat or a house, you should leave it in a good state to safeguard your deposit, according to the Seeff Property Group.

It is common practice for tenants to pay a rental deposit which the landlord must invest in an interest-bearing account for the benefit of the tenant. At the end of the lease, the landlord can, however, make certain deductions from the deposit to repair and reinstate the property to its original condition.

Tenants usually bank on getting their deposit back at the end of the rental. It is, however, common to find that tenants vacate a property and leave it in a messy state where it needs repairs, repainting, and cleaning. Worse, they may sometimes leave full rubbish bins and even leave some of their unwanted stuff behind.

Needless to say, this is totally unacceptable, and the tenant, unfortunately, risks the possibility that the landlord will need to spend money on the property to make it fit for a new tenant. The tenant also risks not getting a good reference from the landlord which is important as most landlords require a reference check on top of the standard credit and affordability checks.

Although “fair wear and tear” is acceptable, any additional damage could put the deposit at risk, according to PG van der Linde, rental manager for Seeff Pretoria East. Aside from any potential rental arrears, the landlord can also deduct the cost of repairs. If there are maintenance issues during the lease period, the tenants must raise this with the landlord. They cannot wait until the lease expires.

It is a legal requirement that a condition of property report be done when the tenant takes occupation. This document should record the full state of the property and highlight any defects and must be signed by both parties. The document then forms the basis for an outgoing inspection to identify things that need to be fixed or cleaned.

Seeff says tenants must ensure the property is cleaned and restored by the last day of their lease, and at least by the latest at midday on the day when the new lease expires. It is therefore advisable to start preparing at least a week before you move out.

The entire property must be thoroughly cleaned. That includes the walls, light fittings, cupboards (inside and outside), kitchen including the stove and oven, appliances and cabinets. Remove anything that you affixed to the walls, plug the holes and paint where necessary. Walls which do not require painting should be washed.

Windows must be cleaned. If there are blinds, these must be in full working order and cleaned. Curtains, if any, must be dry cleaned. Floors must be steam cleaned, including any carpeted areas.

Any broken or loose cupboard hinges and handles should be repaired or replaced. All electrical appliances, plugs and lights must be in a full working order. All the lightbulbs must be working. Any dripping taps should be fixed. There should be no blocked drains.

If the property is furnished, all furniture should also be cleaned, and mattresses and couches steam cleaned. The swimming pool, if there is one, should be clean and in full working order, including the pump and creepy. If you kept pets, any pet smells must be cleared out and anything dirtied or damaged must be repaired.

Garages should also be cleared and cleaned. The garden should be trimmed and tidy. All refuse should be removed so that a clean bin is left for the new tenant.

A final inspection must be done and signed by both parties. A full set of keys and remotes must be handed over when you vacate the property.

If there are any repairs that need to be done, the landlord must provide proof of these. The deposit (net of any repair costs) must be refunded to the tenant within 14 days. Disputes can be lodged with the Rental Housing Tribunal.

Preventive Maintenance Tips

Taking proactive steps throughout your lease can help ensure you leave the property in good condition and secure your deposit. Here are some preventive maintenance tips:

  • Regular cleaning: Maintain a regular cleaning schedule to prevent dirt and grime buildup. Focus on high-traffic areas like the kitchen and bathroom, ensuring appliances and fixtures are kept clean and in good working order.
  • Report issues promptly: As soon as you notice any maintenance issues, such as a leaking tap or a faulty light switch, report them to your landlord immediately. Early reporting can prevent minor problems from becoming major repairs.
  • Document everything: Keep a detailed record of any maintenance issues and communications with your landlord. Document repairs with photos and receipts. This will provide evidence of your diligence if disputes arise at the end of your lease. Keep both digital and hard copies of these to ensure you always have them should something happen.
  • Garden maintenance: If the property includes a garden, regularly mow the lawn, trim bushes, and remove weeds. Keeping the garden in good shape will prevent costly end-of-lease landscaping services. If basic garden services are included in your rent, make sure that you keep a record of the days they came. If you want to undertake more extensive gardening projects, clear it with your landlord and keep records of the communication and the work that was done. If you hired someone to do work for you like putting a fountain in your backyard, make sure you have all the quotes, invoices and so forth.
  • Avoid damage: Be mindful of actions that could damage the property. Use furniture pads to prevent scratches on floors, avoid placing heavy items on shelves that aren't designed to hold them, and be careful when hanging pictures to avoid excessive wall damage.
  • Pest control: Keep an eye out for signs of pests and take immediate action if you spot any. Regular cleaning and proper food storage can help prevent infestations. If you need pest control services you need to inform your landlord as soon as possible. Generally, the landlord is responsible for pest and vermin control, such as rats, mice and termites. The exception is when pests are caused by the tenant's lack of cleanliness. It is their responsibility to dispose of rubbish properly.
  • Appliance care: Clean and maintain appliances regularly. For example, clean the oven, defrost the freezer, and check the washing machine for blockages. Proper care can extend the life of appliances and prevent breakdowns. This can also prevent costly repairs to damaged ovens or floors if a freezer is defrosted and leaks over laminated floors, leading to lifting and warping.

The financial implications you need to consider

Understanding the financial implications of not receiving your full deposit back is crucial. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Impact on future rentals: Landlords often require references from previous landlords. Not getting your full deposit back or having unresolved disputes can result in a negative reference, making it harder to secure future rentals.
  • Budgeting for potential costs: Plan for potential end-of-lease expenses, such as professional cleaning or minor repairs. Setting aside a small amount each month can help ensure you have the necessary funds available when you move out.
  • Deposit as savings: Think of your rental deposit as a form of forced savings. If you take good care of the property and receive your full deposit back, it can be a helpful financial boost when moving to a new place.
  • Avoiding penalties: Not addressing maintenance issues or leaving the property in poor condition can lead to additional costs beyond your deposit. For example, significant damages might result in legal fees or the need to compensate the landlord for lost rent while repairs are made.
  • Interest on deposit: In South Africa, landlords are required to invest your deposit in an interest-bearing account. The interest accrued should benefit you at the end of the lease. Ensure you understand how the interest is calculated and what you are entitled to receive.
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