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How to protect your deposit when moving in

Liezl Hesketh in Renters 

protect deposit

Tips that will help you keep your renter deposit

Since the inception of renting there have been disputes between landlords and renters. Many renters feel that landlords are out to make their lives miserable, and landlords are worried that renters won’t pay their rent on time or take care of their property. One of the biggest points of contention is the renter deposit and on what grounds a landlord should pay it back or not.

I’m moving out. Please refund my deposit.

Most renters are good citizens who pay their rent on time, look after the property and smile and wave at the neighbours when they leave for work or class. Accordingly, most landlords are not sharks who try to deceive renters and keep their money. However, there are a few things that every renter can do to ensure that their full deposit is refunded when their lease has expired and they’re moving out:

9 tips to safeguard your renter deposit

  1. Know your rights. Get a copy of the Rental Housing Act and Consumer Protection Act and read it. You may be excited now, but if you want to move out six months down the line and your landlord is giving you a hard time you will be grateful for doing your homework.
  2. Have a written lease agreement. Many renters rely on a verbal agreement between themselves and their landlord, especially when renting a granny flat or room in a private home. Don’t move in unless you have a signed contract and always keep a copy in a safe place. It’s a good idea to scan a copy which you can save online.
  3. Do a joint moving-in and moving-out inspection. It is of utmost importance that you and your landlord inspect the property together – both before you move in and when you move out. Should your landlord fail to perform the inspections, it is considered that he or she acknowledges that all is in order and there is no damage that will prevent the deposit from being paid back in full.
  4. Take photos. Don’t be shy to ask questions and to take many photos during the moving-in inspection. The more evidence you have of the state of the accommodation before you move in, the better. Look at the condition of carpets and tiles, the ceiling, windows, doors, inside cupboards, etc. Also check if there is any mould, stains or water damage in the bath, shower or basin.
  5. Know the difference between ‘fair wear and tear’ and damages. There is a huge difference between a gaping hole in the wall and a curtain rail that has come undone after multiple tenants have used it. Don’t let a landlord let you pay for the curtain rail that is considered fair wear and tear.
  6. Get your landlord to fix things. Immediately report anything that has broken and ask your landlord when you can expect it to be fixed. Don’t make any improvements or do maintenance work yourself or without written consent from your landlord.
  7. Have a written copy of all communication. Nothing beats a paper trail. Keep all SMSses, emails and letters sent to your landlord, as well as receipts for utility bills paid in a safe place. Always get a receipt or keep your proof of payment for rent paid.
  8. Make sure your utility bills are paid in full. Take a water and electricity reading on the day you move in and note it on the contract. Ensure that the landlord signs next to the readings to confirm them, as you never know whether the previous tenant has paid their bills or not and you don’t want to end up paying their expenses for them!
  9. Pay your rent regularly. This may seem like a no-brainer, but nothing aggravates a landlord more than rent that’s not paid on time. Paying your rent will always keep you in good standing with your landlord, making the departure process so much easier.

When the time comes for you to move out, the landlord must refund the deposit within 7 days of expiry of the lease. However, if there are damages, the property must be restored and the landlord may deduct repairs from the deposit before refunding the remainder, within 14 days. You have the right to copies of all the invoices for the repairs. For more information and queries, contact your local rental housing tribunal.

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