Five Things Every Tenant Should Know
Found a lovely rental property that meets your needs? Excited about moving into the house and turning it into the home of your dreams? There are some common things that every tenant should do in order to make sure that the renting process flows smoothly. Here we have put together five things every tenant should know.
1. You should have a written lease
The number one golden rule is that every tenant should always have a written lease with their landlord. The written lease will serve as a contractual arrangement that clearly stipulates the conditions under which the tenant will occupy the landlord’s house. In a nutshell, the written lease will provide proof of what the tenant and landlord have both agreed to do.
One of the greatest misconceptions is that a verbal agreement carries the same weight as a written agreement. This is not the case! A verbal agreement does not offer either party as much protection as a written agreement. For example, there is a notion that if there is a verbal lease, then the tenant does not have to provide the proper notice period to end the tenancy. Zambian law will apply to both verbal and written leases, so even if your lease is an oral one, you will still have to provide a proper notice period to your landlord.
What if the landlord refuses to enter into a written lease? It is important to note that we’re referring to a place the tenant will reside and call home. A tenant should always question whether they want to live somewhere without any written protection of their tenancy.
The greatest merits of having a written lease agreement in effect include;
- If there is a dispute at a later date, having a written lease can help clarify what was agreed to by both sides.
- If the landlord chooses to sell the property. The new landlord will have to follow any written agreement that was already in place.
2. You should understand your lease.
A lease is a contract, and you need to understand the lease and what it is you are agreeing to before entering into it. The unfortunate truth is that most people don’t read contacts at all or just barely skirm through them before signing. This is an extremely dangerous attitude to have when it comes to written lease agreements.
Take the time to go through the lease with a fine-tooth comb. Get clarity on any issues or clauses that may be confusing to you. The importance of the lease cannot be overstated; this contract is about having somewhere to live, it’s about your home, and your family’s home.
If the tenant and landlord agree that something is important to one, or to both sides, then it should be inserted as a term in the lease.
What can be included in the lease?
At a minimum, a lease agreement should cover the following items:
- Names and addresses of the parties to the contract (i.e., the landlord and tenant or tenants).
- Date of the agreement.
- Names of all those who will be living in the premises, including children and a description of any pets.
- Address of the premises to be rented and anything else necessary to further define the accommodation.
- Privileges that the tenant is entitled to as a tenant.
- Date the tenancy is to start and whether the tenancy is periodic or fixed term.
- The amount of rent to be paid, when it is to be paid, how it is to be paid (by cheque, automatic withdrawal, cash), and any late fees that might apply.
- How the tenancy may be ended, including notice periods.
- Whether there is to be a security deposit, the amount of the deposit, and details of what the deposit covers.
- Who pays for utilities and other services, such as cable TV.
- Extra fees like parking and key deposits.
- Furniture or appliances included in the rental agreement.
- Whether pets are allowed.
- Who is responsible for maintenance and repairs.
- When inspections of the premises will be carried out.
- Rules regarding subletting.
- Procedures that the landlord will follow if there is a complaint about the tenant.
- Other terms to which the parties have specifically agreed.
3. You should know what kind of lease you have
Tenancies can be classified into two main categories;
- Fixed term
The tenant needs to fully understand what kind of tenancy they have. There are different rules that a tenant must follow in order to end either of these kinds of tenancies.
A periodic tenancy means that there is no end date included in the lease agreement. The tenant can continue to live in the property until either the tenant or landlord gives notice to end the tenancy. There are different kinds of periodic tenancies,
- Monthly periodic tenancies (where the tenant agrees to rent month-to-month and pay rent on a monthly basis).
- Weekly periodic tenancies (where the tenant agrees to rent week-to-week and pay rent on weekly basis).
Fixed term tenancy
A fixed term lease means that the tenant agrees to rent the premises for a fixed length of time. There is an end date written in the lease. At the end of the agreed time, it is assumed that the tenant will move out and no longer live there. Neither a tenant nor a landlord can end a fixed term lease early unless the other party agrees.
4. You should know how to end the tenancy and what can happen if you don’t follow the rules
A tenant needs to know how to end the lease agreement in the proper manner. In the event the tenant cannot end the lease properly, then they need to know the legal ramifications, and what will happen to their security deposit. How a lease ends depends on the reason why the tenant is leaving and what kind of lease the tenant has (fixed term or periodic?).
- Did the landlord do something wrong?
- Does the tenant just want to leave? and what kind of lease the tenant has (fixed term or periodic?).
Neither a tenant nor a landlord can end a fixed term lease early unless the other party agrees. The notice period for termination of a periodic tenancy should be agreed by the tenant and landlord, and be included in the lease agreement. Tenants should always give landlords written notice to end a tenancy.
5. You should know the rules regarding return of the security deposit
A landlord can keep a portion or all of the security deposit if they are owed for any unpaid obligations (for example, unpaid rent). The same applies if there is damage done to the property that is beyond normal wear and tear.
A landlord and a tenant need to conduct an inspection of the property when the tenant moves in and write down the condition of the property at that time. When the tenant is moving out, they should conduct another inspection and write down the condition of the property at that time. By having the two inspections, the landlord and the tenant both know what was wrong with the place when the tenant moved in, and then they can compare the condition when the tenant moves out, to see if the property is in any worse condition.
If you know what your landlord is expecting of you, and what your rights and obligations are, then you can feel more secure in your home and truly enjoy living there. A written lease can give you this peace of mind.