When new tenants pay for old problems

We know about the pitfalls of renting out a property — but what about the pitfalls a tenant can experience?

We have just rented a lovely, big, double-storey house in Pretoria, close to absolutely every amenity, including the gym (very important to me). We moved in last month after signing a fairly standard, straightforward lease for a year.

Then the problems started.

The municipality came to cut off our electricity. Why, we asked? Non-payment of the account, we were told. The owner of the house had run into financial difficulties because the previous tenants hadn’t paid the rent for five months and — guess what? — he hadn’t been able to evict them.

A visit to the municipality confirmed arrears in rates, electricity and water in the amount of R20 000.

Clearly, the double deposit we paid when we rented the house hadn’t made much of a dent in the owner’s arrears.

We’ve been unable to transfer the electricity account into our name because the owner has to clear the debt first. The municipality will doubtless be back to cut us off. To add insult to injury, when we were cut off, the representative kindly said he would “do us a favour” and reconnect the electricity for R150! It seems likely that this was the arrangement with the previous tenants. If it’s so easy to reconnect electricity, is it perhaps a small wonder that so many household accounts are running into tens of thousands of rands of debt?!

Not a pleasant situation to be in — and one you can avoid by asking your landlord upfront if all accounts have been settled to date. Something we should have done to begin with.

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