Be a smart tenant!

July 6, 2016

With the opening of the tertiary institutions around the country for the new academic year, many students are in the process of securing flats or rooms to rent.  The experience can be quite painful for some renters who are unfamiliar with the present rental landscape.

With such a competitive market and quick rental turnover, for some renters, the excitement of finding that dream flat or room can be a disaster. This is especially when you are unable to find an affordable and safe place at your preferred locality.

Some students end up getting a raw deal in the name of words such as “cozy” or “unique”. These are nothing but shoe-box sized single rooms with old and outdated features, or bizarre layouts that makes fitting furniture impossible.

Landlord and tenancy related complaints remain amongst the top five in Council’s complaints list year in and year out. The issues surrounding these complaints are to do with tertiary students being hoodwinked by cunning landlords, leaking ceilings, blocked kitchen and toilet pipes, broken doors, no issuance of receipts and tampered electricity and water meters. Tampering electricity and water meters means paying extra dollars in the utility bills.  The other complaints range from landlords giving ‘overnight’ notices to the students to vacate the flat and landlords giving the tenants a run around when it comes to returning security deposit, In some cases, landlords have been found entering the tenants’ flats without his/her presence and approval. One needs to understand that this is inappropriate and unacceptable.

Sadly, many a times, some student-tenants get locked into unfair tenancy contracts. These contracts or agreements carry clauses best described as unreasonable and misleading which binds them thereby compelling tenants to adhere to the unfair terms and conditions.

Then, there are some tenants who do not have written contracts at all. Verbal agreements can be disastrous, as there is likelihood that both parties can disagree on the terms and conditions of the tenancy at a later stage. All tenancy agreements must be written for better enforcement of the clauses in the agreements. Any changes to the agreement and renewals must also be in writing to avoid disputes in future. Consumers must make sure that the landlord gives them copies of the agreements before the tenancy starts, or before any changes take effect.

From 2012 to 2015, the Council has received 3,542 complaints in relation to landlord and tenancy. Tertiary students and first-time job-holders who are generally first-time tenants and leave their rural homes for greener pastures in urban centres also make up the Council’s statistics.

Case Study 1

Andrew, a foreign student joined one of the tertiary institutions, with much excitement about his university life. He managed to find a flat in proximity with the campus and decided to share the flat with his friend. 

The flat had two small rooms with no proper windows. The kitchen amenities were almost falling into pieces and the toilet system was not working properly.

Despite making several requests to the landlord to fix the problems, no action was forthcoming from the landlord. Andrew and his flat mate kept reminding the landlord to heed to their complaints but to no avail. They also advised him of their intention to move out should the landlord not attend to their complaints. Frustrated Andrew then lodged a complaint with the Council. Upon the Council’s intervention, the parties agreed that the tenants will give a month’s notice. The landlord further conceded to return the security deposit paid by the tenants.

Case Study 2

Crystal, a foreign student, moved into a flat after entering into a written contract with her landlord.  The flat required urgent repair works. However, Crystal decided to move in by virtue of the promise from the landlord to carry out the repairs gradually.

As time lapsed, the landlord failed to repair the flat as agreed between the parties. During such times, Crystal continued paying her rent. Unfortunately, the condition of the house kept on deteriorating. It came to a point where Crystal had to shift her belongings to her neighbor’s house. The complainant then lodged a complaint with the Council. Upon a successful mediation, the landlord agreed to carry out the necessary repairs.

Andrew and Crystal’s experiences are only two examples from the several complaints dealt with by the Council. There are many tenants who suffer at the hands of some ruthless landlords. 

Consumers are urged to take note of the following advice:

  • Inspect the condition of the flat/room before moving in and signing the tenancy agreement. Check the windows, doors, kitchen, toilet system and other amenities;
  • Ensure there is a written tenancy agreement. Look out for the unfair terms/conditions in the agreements. Check for your (tenant) and your landlord’s obligations;
  • Read the contract thoroughly and understand before you sign it. Do not sign agreements if you do not agree with certain terms and conditions. Refrain from signing agreements with blank spaces and incomplete clauses;
  • Talk to your landlord about the rules, in particular, what may be negotiable and what may be non-negotiable. This will help you clear the air before moving in;
  • Ensure that you and your landlord or other tenants on the premises have separate electricity and water meters;
  • Do not pay your security deposit unless you are absolutely sure that you will rent the flat. You may have to forfeit your money if you change your mind.

Remember, you can always lodge a formal complaint or seek the Council’s advice regarding landlord and tenancy issues.