June is the month that South Africans celebrate the rights of the youth, which extend far beyond the basic right of access to education. With many students living away from home in rented accommodation, it’s also a time to be aware of your rights when it comes to the property you’re staying in – and what your rights and obligations are if you want to move out before your lease expires.
“With the mid-year recess around the corner, it’s a good time to take control and change your accommodation to suit your circumstances better,” says Craig McMurray, CEO of Respublica, a leading student housing provider. “Your reasons for moving could include wanting to be closer to lectures, wanting access to better amenities, a quieter more conducive study environment or even because your current landlord hasn’t kept to their side of the agreement. Whatever your reason, it’s important to know your rights and your responsibilities when it comes to your rental contract.”
Whether you’re staying in a conventional apartment or in a university residence, you should have signed a lease agreement with your landlord before you moved in – and this document is your first port of call for guidance if you decide to relocate.
Every lease should have a cancellation clause that describes the conditions under which either you or the landlord can cancel the contract. If such a clause isn’t included in your lease, insist on one being included before you sign.
You can cancel your lease contract if your landlord has not delivered on what they promised in the original agreement, in spite of you reminding them. This could include things like major repairs not being done, poor security and access control not being implemented or maintained, or even cleaning services not completing their tasks as agreed.
If you want to cancel your lease even though your landlord has done everything they’re supposed to, your best bet is to chat to them, to see if you can come to a mutual agreement. With student accommodation in such high demand, they may release you from your contract if you can find someone to take it over – but don’t do this without their knowledge, or you may then be in breach of your contract yourself!
If your landlord refuses to release you from your contract, the Consumer Protection Act says that you are allowed to give your landlord notice if you want to leave before your lease expires. If the landlord hasn’t done anything wrong, however, they are entitled to recover any reasonable costs that they incur while they’re replacing you – so bear that in mind if you do decide to move, and perhaps enter your negotiations with a replacement person already lined up if you can.
If you find someone suitable to take over your lease, the landlord cannot turn them away and make you pay the penalties that are described in your lease.
If your landlord won’t release you from your contract, they are not allowed to randomly make up penalties. Similarly, if your deposit was secured to cover the costs of any damage or breakages, and none have happened, the landlord may not withhold your deposit.
Staying in the best possible accommodation is one of the keys to successful studies: you want to stay in a secure environment close to your lectures where you can study in peace and quiet, and where you don’t have to worry about chores like laundry and cleaning. It’s your right to do everything you can to make sure you have access to these – but it’s also your responsibility to treat the terms of the contract you have with your landlord with respect and care.