Know your rights to avoid rental property problems
11/05/2010 | There is no shortage of residents with rental property issues and we at Consumer Affairs get our fair share of complaints from both tenants and landlords.
Some issues are minor communication problems, where both parties do not sit down and try to resolve things.
But we get quite a few complainants with major issues that eventually end up in Magistrates Court.
Landlord and tenant problems can easily be avoided if both parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities.
Establish ground rules and read the lease agreement thoroughly before signing.
Here are tips to help you avoid common rental property pitfalls.
Have a lease that clearly outlines each person’s responsibilities.
Before signing, both landlord and tenant should get references.
I spoke to a lady who moved into an apartment and had all sorts of problems then found out her landlord had had numerous previous tenants who were discontented living there.
Landlords, check the potential renter’s previous landlord.
Renters, speak to the potential landlord’s previous tenants if you can. Never sign a lease if there is a lot of work to be done on the rental unit.
You may be living in a construction zone for longer than you anticipated or the work may never get done.
Ensure the lease is dated and is clear about termination.
Also, make sure you get a copy and keep it where it is readily accessible should problems occur.
The lease becomes a legal document only when a stamp duty has been paid on it.
In the absence of a lease, the current local legislation becomes the lease.
Have a detailed, signed list of all inventories in the rental unit and the condition it is in.
It is a good idea to take pictures to refer back to.
It is not uncommon for a tenant to arrange for small necessary repairs to be done in their apartment and pay for it, expecting the landlord to either reimburse them or deduct the expense from the rent.
If this is the route you are taking, make sure that this arrangement is in writing and both parties sign it.
Running repairs to the inside of the premises, such as replacing necessary tap washers, fuses, window panes, fastenings, locks, bolts, screens and door keys are also the tenant’s responsibility.
The landlord and tenant must agree to this practice and a new lease should be written.
If a tenant sublets their apartment without landlord approval the new tenant has no legal right to the apartment.
These are not considered tenancy and tenants essentially have no rights.
Stay of rent
Landlords must keep their properties in good repair inside and out. They should ensure the tenant has access to hot and cold water and that electricity sockets and gas lines are kept in good working order.
If the landlord fails to make any necessary repairs, the tenant can apply to Magistrates’ Court to withhold rent until the repairs are done. Once the repairs are completed, the tenant must pay all back rent to the landlord.
The tenant is responsible for paying the rent monthly in advance on a date stipulated by the lease and for electricity or gas that they consume. The tenant must also only use the premises as a private dwelling, unless permission has been received from the landlord to do otherwise.
Termination of lease
Notice must be in writing. If it is a year-to-year lease, the written notice must not be less than six months. The standard practice is for one calendar month’s notice, and this is based on the rent payment schedule and that most people pay rent on a calendar month basis. This also follows the principles of the Landlord and Tenant Act.
A landlord may serve on a tenant a notice-to-quit on any of the following grounds:
• For failure to pay rent or for breach of any other covenant or condition of the rental agreement, or where a landlord requires the premises for his own occupation, or for the occupation of his father, mother or any child or grandchild of his over the age of 18 or married;
• Where a landlord wishes to rebuild the premises or intends to carry out major renovations that cannot be carried out with the tenant in occupation;
• Where a landlord specifies that a tenant is undesirable (as defined under the provisions of the law) and the landlord has given him/her an opportunity to remedy the matter complained of and the tenant has failed to do so.
If there is a deposit to be returned at the end of a lease, the landlord must provide receipts for anything he uses the cash for.
Evictions must be in writing. If the tenant has not vacated the premises by the given date, the landlord must apply to the courts for a possession order.
The court will decide on a mandatory eviction date. If the tenant does not vacate as the court orders, the landlord can have the Marshal physically remove the tenant and their belongings from the premises.
In Bermuda, rental properties are either covered by the Rent Increases (Domestic Premises) Control Amendment Act 2009, which states that dwelling units with an annual rental value of less than BM$27,000 are subject to rent control.
Premises licensed as tourist accommodation and units with a lease period of less than 12 months are not subject to rent control.
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1974 applies to rental properties not covered by Rent Control and provides certain provisions of occupancy, such as clearly laying out what the landlord’s and tenant’s responsibilities are. Read the Human Rights Act.
For more information on these Acts, visit the Rent Commission page of www.gov.bm
To check if your apartment is under rent control, visit www.landvaluation.bm
Honey Adams is the education officer for the office of Consumer Affairs.