Is the property you rent secure enough?

Security is top of mind for many tenants when selecting a home, says Shaun du Bois of Just Property.

But where does the responsibility fall to ensure a property on the rental market meets the demands of a society where crime is an unfortunate reality?

“Tenants with a choice between properties are likely to choose the one with better security, even if it comes at a premium. In a competitive rental market, it is clearly in the landlord’s interests to ensure his property is secure and therefore more attractive to tenants. What may be less obvious is that he also has a legal responsibility to do so,” says du Bois.

“The Rental Housing Act and Unfair Practices Regulations require the landlord to offer a property that is reasonably fit for the purpose for which it is being let, and habitable. In addition, the property is the landlord’s asset and, in many scenarios, tenants may be contractually prohibited from making security improvements.

“Tenants certainly have an interest in keeping their goods and family safe and if they have concerns, discussions regarding any improvements to security should be concluded and then reduced to writing before signing the lease.”

Du Bois says most landlords will agree to either covering some of the cost or will allow tenants to make upgrades on condition that the property is restored to its original condition on the termination of the lease, or that any improvements remain once tenants vacate the property.

“It is in the landlord’s interests to have happy tenants who are secure,” he says

Du Bois notes that South Africa has a diverse range of properties – in one area, a property with a locking door may be fit for purpose and habitable, but in more affluent areas, tenants paying much higher rentals will consider far more, even armed guards.

Opinions will differ on what is fit for purpose and here insurance policies provide some clues as to what are considered the minimum requirements in terms of security. In most cases, premiums will increase if the property does not have an alarm, and burglar guards or gates on opening windows and doors.

It is essential that tenants discuss this with their landlord before signing the lease, and add a clause covering the agreement to the lease, says du Bois.

“This is an important point because tenants are liable for insuring their own goods on and in the property. Just Property leases are very clear on this point. With regards to actual damage to the property itself, such as doors, it is not the tenants’ property and so they cannot insure it. In most cases, the landlord is liable for any damage to the property unless the tenants were negligent, and tenants must be responsible for insuring their own personal goods.”

Once tenants move in they must ensure that the property is at all times secure, both to protect their goods and the landlord’s asset.

“For example, should the property be vandalised – say, copper piping is stolen while tenants are away on holiday – the tenants may well be held liable if they didn’t take steps to ensure the property was secure,” du Bois warns.

“It is important that tenants remember to advise their insurance companies of a change in their address. If you don’t let them know you’ve moved, you may have no cover.

“Crime is an unfortunate reality and tenants rightly make their family’s security a priority,” du Bois concludes. “It makes sense for landlords to provide a high level of security. A reputable and experienced agent will always advise landlords on the benefits of fulfilling their obligations and adding security measures that will attract more tenants.”