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As house hunters, we expect agencies to bend over backwards to find us a house. Sadly we are disillusioned. In most cases we have to bend over backwards for them. It is rare that a letting agent will run a mailing list so you will need to keep calling them rather than the other way round.  However being "professional" in your approach to them will increase your chances of them helping you out. The following sets out what you can do to help them help you.

Be Specific
Imagine you are a letting agency and you know the following about these two house hunters.

House Hunter 1

  • Rent Range : R1 400 - R1 600 per month
  • Number of Rooms Required - 2,3,4,5, or 6
  • Looking in Camps Bay or Sunset Beach

House Hunter 2

  • Rent Range : R1 500 - R1 700 per month 
  • Number of Rooms Required - 3 
  • Looking in Woodstock

Which house hunter would you want to help? To an agent it is obvious that house hunter 2 has put thought into what he or she is looking for. I would therefore assume that house hunter 2 is likely to commit to a contract in the near future. End result - house hunter 2 will be more likely to get help

Be realistic
So you want a twenty five bed roomed mansion in Clifton for R250 a week. I have picked an extreme example to illustrate a point. Unfortunately it takes far less extreme requirements to get an agent thinking you are a time waster. Before approaching letting agents, demonstrate your commitment to finding somewhere by doing a little bit of research to establish what is available. In particular establish the following:

  • Rent - what prices are typical, can you get what you think you want at the price you want.
  • Type of Property - Do the agents actually deal with your type of property? E.g.  Only the minority are interested in letting out rooms within houses. 
  • Specifics - If you desperately need a city centre loft, you may have to be more flexible on other issues. Make sure you explain to the agents what you can and cannot be flexible on. 
  • Length of Tenancy - most agents will expect you to sign a contract binding you for at least six months. Specifying a time shorter than this will significantly reduce the response you get. Also find out if the market expects you to take a house over the summer, even if you are not going to be there.

Apply at the Right Time
Although it varies from area to area, agents are much more likely to be interested in you if you are looking to move in soon.  We tend to find that anybody looking more than 2 months ahead of their intended moving in date does not get a good response from agents.

Start Now not Later
Without wanting to be too motherly, the process of ensuring that you get your deposit back starts when you hand over your deposit to your landlord, not the day before you move out! With the grown up bit done, here are our recommendations.

Before you sign the contract make sure that you know what the deposit you are paying is for, and make sure you have this in writing. In particular you should ensure that fair wear and tear is excluded from your liabilities. Pay either by cheque or credit card so you have evidence of having paid. Also make sure that you get a receipt for it.

When you Move In
When you move in make it a priority to get and check your inventory thoroughly. A good landlord/agent will provide you with a very detailed report. It will not only list every item but will also list the condition of the item. Check that each item listed is in fact in the house, and if it is not, inform the landlord. If you disagree with the description of the condition of something then amend your inventory accordingly. Similarly if no descriptions of condition are added and something is in poor condition then make a note of it. This also applies to fittings and woodwork/décor, fag burns in carpets/furniture.

You should ensure that the marked up inventory is returned to your agent/landlord within a week of picking up the keys. Keep a copy of the amendments for your own records (trust us it will be very, very useful at the end of the tenancy). Ask the landlord/agent to confirm in writing that they have received and agreed to your amendments.

During your tenancy, should you decide that actually you would quite like your landlord to be able to keep your deposit at the end of your tenancy then you could try the following top tips for giving your landlord every justification to retain it (or in case you missed the sarcasm don't under any circumstances do the following!) :

  • Painting your walls in abstract colours, especially without getting permission to do so will ensure that you lose a substantial amount of your deposit. 
  • Put big nails in every wall and use Prestik everywhere. This goes down particularly well when you have made absolutely no effort to clean up the Prestik marks. 
  • One of our favourites is removing the landlord's furniture into the garden shed so you can make room for your surround sound 42" screen TV system. Leave said furniture in there over the winter and come the end of your tenancy - voila, mildew - inspired! 
  • Don't bother buying ash trays - sofas and carpets are ideal for stubbing out cigarettes (this is particularly appealing to your mates at 4 'o' clock in the morning after your house warming) 
  • Break the tasteless sculpture sitting in the corner of the sitting room. We definitely don't recommend politely asking your landlord to remove it at the start of the tenancy, as this would really remove a golden opportunity to lose a few rand. 
  • Red wine stains are a sure winner. If you think you have already used up all your deposit and you don't want your landlord to have to pay out too much to get the place into a fit state for next years gullible mugs, then try the following: Soak up as much as possible and cover (not just sprinkle) the stain in salt (as soon as it happens rather than the morning after).
  • Let the garden grow into a natural habitat suitable for gorillas. 
  • Break a crystal vase and replace it with a pint glass borrowed from the pub. 
  • Baking Potatoes in the Microwave for 45 minutes really helps the microwave to break itself. 
  • Food fights are pretty effective, especially when you leave that banana on the ceiling for a few days before thinking about clearing up. 
  • Forget to inform the landlord when one of his ropey chairs gives away because someone actually dared sit on it. 
  • Never defrosting the fridge so the ice compartment door breaks. Putting three cases of beer in the fridge so all the shelves bend beyond the limit of elasticity isn't a bad idea either. 
  • Ensuring the place looks like a recycling plant every time the landlord comes round.

Getting Ready to Move Out
D-Day is approaching - don't get stuffed by your flat mates.

O.K. so you are coming to the end of your tenancy and you have sensibly decided to ignore our "recommendations" (?!) above so your place is not looking too bad. You are moving out in two days time and all of a sudden you realise that all 5 of your flat mates have moved out and the clean up still needs doing! Oh ****.

There is no way out of it. If you want your deposit back you have got to clean the place from top to bottom. It isn't just a quick vacuum and a quick wash up. It's a serious scrub of every corner, tile, work surface, skirting boards etc. It is a pain and it will be considerably more painful if you have to do it on your own.

Try to agree a day or even two shortly before the tenancy ends when all your flat mates will be around to clean up. Normally, with exams having finished people tend to go home before the end of the tenancy. The clean up will always take longer than you think so if flat mates are threatening not to be around then try to make them see the light. Your flat mates that disappeared early may not be quite so pleased if you just did your "share" and then everybody ends up losing their deposits. Whilst on the subject of "shares", do not under estimate how much time the last minute jobs will take!

If you can't agree on a day make sure that those leaving early are assigned the worst jobs like cleaning out the cupboards in the kitchen, de-greasing the pots and pans, beating the rugs, weeding the garden, cleaning the windows etc. Each person should be responsible for their bedroom but make sure they do not leave until the rest of you are happy that it has been left in a fit state. If you have set up a shared bank account this could be used as an incentive measure to ensure an equal contribution from a really troublesome flat mate.

Oh you didn't trash it, did you?

Did you demolish some shelves back at the house warming? Or perhaps you took a marker pen to the kitchen wall when trying to point out the washing up to a flat mate? It will almost always be cheaper to sort out problems yourself. This may even mean getting a tradesman in yourself. It is amazing how expensive agency or landlords favoured maintenance people can be!

Passing the Inspection before running to the bank
If you are really keen you might want to consider asking your landlord to carry out an inspection a couple of weeks before you move out. He/she should be able to point out what needs sorting out before you leave.
Below is a list of the little jobs that are frequently forgotten and lead to bills against your deposit:
  • Cleaning cupboards in the kitchen. 
  • Removing your own furniture - you might think next years students would like it, but your landlord may charge you to remove it. 
  • Likewise, don't leave any food in cupboards, even if it hasn't passed its sell by date. 
  • Using that brush that has been sitting by your toilet all year. 
  • Defrosting the fridge/freezer - make sure you leave the door open. 
  • Cleaning the oven - oven cleaner works a treat. 
  • Weeding the garden. 
  • Failing to secure the property when you leave. (window locks) 
  • Returning all the keys.

Should you receive a visit from your electricity supplier(s) DO NOT allow them to disconnect the supplies without first getting permission from your landlord/agent. You may get charged for the reconnection!

Check the inventory thoroughly. Replace things with items of similar quality and if they are part of a matching set, do your best to replace it with the same set. Again the price you will pay will be much less than the landlord is likely to charge. Make sure that all items are put back into the room that they are listed as being in.

Arrange for the inspection to be carried out as soon as possible after you move out, or preferably, as you move out as you may be held responsible if somebody breaks-in in the interim.

It is a good idea, if practical, to accompany the landlord on his inspection. Whilst you will probably end up having to do a little bit more work as a result of it, at least it gives you the opportunity to sort out a problem before the very expensive industrial cleaners are called in. It will also make it more difficult for a landlord to make up dubious claims against you.

Despite your best efforts, your Landlord is a ****

You have sweated more liquid than you managed to drink during freshers week to get the place up to scratch before leaving but your landlord is still refusing to return your deposit. What can you do?

Step 1 is to get him/her to detail, in writing, the reasons for not returning your deposit. This should include a cost against each item. e.g. R350 to replace a broken table, R500 for cleaning. Ask for receipts to substantiate each item.

Your next port of call should be your local Rental Housing Tribunal office. They should be able to advise you on how to proceed to the small claims court to recover your costs. The tribunal has the power to take evidence, hold hearings, make decisions, and issue orders. Contact the provincial government for details.

Please note: we have compiled this information in good faith, but we accept no liability for any errors, or for any use that is made of it, or for any problems or damage that may arise as a result of using or acting upon this information.



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