Let’s say you’re a landlord with a tenant who is moving out. You walk into the property, only to find part of the toilet all over the bedroom floor. The stove tops have been meticulously cracked in perfect circles and the ceiling has beautiful black flowery-like smoke patterns. This is not a pretty sight – and a painful one for a landlord.
Why do a rental property inspection?
It is for this reason that ‘The Rental Housing Act‘ (no 50 of 1999) (RHA) makes these inspections mandatory. The inspections aim to do the following:
- Protect the tenant from the landlord – e.g. wrongful accusation of vandalism and breakages
- Protect the landlord from the tenant – Allowing the landlord to deduct a reasonable amount from the tenant’s deposit to fix the things the tenant broke.
- Noting all wear and tear that has happened during the tenure and allowing for future budgeting for upgrades
- Keeping track of the maintenance needed
What should be included in the property inspection?
Property inspections should include plumbing, electric fittings, paint, windows, tiles and any defects that currently exist. I personally include the number of sets of keys, remotes and any other electronics (such as intercoms, gate motors, etc.) and note if they’re working or not.
I personally find that having a checklist that is divided into rooms works best. Each room has the following items:
- Windows – latches, glass putty
- Doors and cupboards – keys, lock mechanism, condition
- Plugs and lights – issues, new bulbs, condition, etc
- Walls and ceiling- paint, water damage, nails in the walls
Obviously, kitchens and bathrooms will have extra things added.
How the property inspection takes place
Property inspections need to have the tenant and the landlord/rental agent present. The two parties will move together through the property and note down the condition of everything. At a minimum, these items must be checked off and notes added to the inspection checklist. It is however preferred that photos be taken of any issues, so that it could be used for future reference.
I prefer a checklist that is broken down per room. Personally, I use this rental property checklist I found on the Africa Housing Company website, but you can use anyone you prefer, as long as the lessee and the lessor both sign.
A good tip is to use a pen that won’t smudge if the form is exposed to water – believe me it happens!
Incoming rental inspection specifics
The following should be considered in your incoming inspection:
- Do the inspection before a tenant moves in. This will avoid issues where the property was damaged by the new tenant
- Add a clause in your rental contract that the tenant can report any issues within 7 days of moving in. Make sure to have the defects in writing via email or a written letter.
- Make sure the tenant signs every page.
Outgoing rental inspection specifics
The following should be considered in your outgoing inspection:
- Legally, the inspection must be done within the last three days before the lease agreement expires. I prefer doing the inspection when I go to collect the keys, as then I am able to see better the condition of the property without his furniture.
- Do the inspection on the same sheet as your incoming inspection.
- Make sure the form is signed by both the lessor and the lessee.
Wear and tear vs damage caused by the tenant
A point of contention has been the difference in definition between wear and tear and actual damage caused by the tenant. Fair wear and tear in lease agreements are generally seen as the day-to-day deterioration of elements in the property. This could be a leaking tap due to use or the paint decolourising due to weather elements and mud.
It is however seen as damage when you paint the property without the knowledge of the landlord, adding nails and screws for paintings. A good guide is using the words negligent or accidental:
- When the tenant breaks the door down due to a case of domestic violence.
- If the tenant sees an issue but doesn’t report it, causing further damage such as a leaking tap that causes massive damage to the kitchen tops
- The tenant accidentally forgot to put the stove off and the kitchen caught fire.
Resolving disputes arising from property inspections
Generally, the landlord and tenant agree on the damages and defects at the outgoing inspection. The landlord then fixes the issues caused by the tenant (excluding wear and tear) for a reasonable amount. The amount left over from the deposit is then returned to the tenant.
There are however cases where the tenant and landlord do not agree on the defects and issues caused by the tenant. In this case, it can be escalated to the Rental Housing Tribunal. The mediation tends to be on a municipality/area level. For example, you can find the details of the Tshwane Rental Housing Tribunal here.
In some cases, it can be escalated straight to an attorney who will start with legal action.
Ingoing and outgoing inspections for rental property protect the landlord and the tenant. Though one might think it favours the landlord by allowing him to deduct breakages and damages from your deposit, in actual fact, it protects the tenant from illegal bullying.
Make sure that you note everything on the inspection checklist. Include anything from paint peeling off, leaking taps to stains on carpets and water damage.
Try to avoid legal action as much as possible, as this might drag on for months, if not years. I do recommend finding good tenants and avoiding issues later on.