How to get your rental deposit back from your landlord

    Seeff provides valuable advice to help you get your rental deposit back from your landlord.

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    Getting your full rental deposit back from an uncooperative landlord can be a daunting task. Confrontation can be difficult and uncomfortable; you may not even understand your rights under the law.

    Fortunately, some steps can be taken to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible ( even if it requires further escalation) and that your landlord doesn’t take advantage of you. 

    Seeff recommends that you take the following steps to ensure that disagreements are dealt with amicably and that your landlord ultimately pays back your rental deposit. 

    Tip One: Organise Any Documentation

    Collect any documentation, such as photos or videos of the property, from before and after you moved in.

    In addition, gather receipts for any home maintenance, repairs, or cleaning you did, and any communication with the landlord regarding the rental deposit. Anything indicative of pre-existing damage may be helpful. There may be enough evidence in your own records to persuade your landlord to pay back what they owe.

    Documents to look for include the following:

    • Receipts.
    • Invoices.
    • Photographs.
    • Informal written notes.
    • Emails.
    • Text messages.

    It also might be worthwhile asking friends or neighbours if they have any evidence, such as pictures, showing the property's condition before you moved in. This may help resolve the dispute.

    The more orderly your records are, the less challenging the next step in the process will be. 

    Tip Two: Review the Rental Agreement

    Review the terms of your lease to see if it specifies how and when your rental deposit will be returned.

    Once you understand the details of your lease, check the Rental Housing Act to see if your landlord has been compliant.

    The RHA stipulates the following:

    • A tenant’s rental deposit must be placed in an interest-bearing account by the landlord, and this account must be maintained for the duration of the lease.

    • Once the lease is terminated, the landlord must deduct any damages from this amount. After deductions, the remaining amount, including interest earned, must be paid to the tenant.

    • If no repairs are necessary, the total rental deposit amount must be refunded within a week (7 days) of the final inspection. If the property needs work, the remaining amount after deductions must be refunded within 14 days of finalising repairs.

    Tip Three: Seek Help from a Small Claims Court

    If you cannot resolve the issue through mediation, you may want to consider taking your landlord to a Small Claims Court. This is a legal process where you can present your case and evidence to get your rental deposit back. Here are some important things to note about this process:

    • In South Africa, the SCC allows a person or “plaintiff” to make a claim that amounts to R20 000 or less. If your claim is greater than R20 000, part of your claim may need to be discarded.

    • No legal representation is permissible, meaning you are not entitled to an attorney. 

    • Filing a claim at the SCC starts with seeking the assistance of the Clerk of the Small Claims Court. You can find the Clerk at the Magistrates Court of your choosing.

    Once discussed with the Clerk, it will be necessary to write and issue a 14-day letter of demand to your landlord, which you can deliver yourself or send directly from the Clerk. You can find a template for a letter of demand online, provided by the South African government. 

    In fine print at the bottom of the document, the letter demand states, “Unless you comply with this demand within 14 (fourteen) days after receipt of this letter, summons will be issued against you in the Small Claims Court”. 

    Should your landlord fail to respond, the Clerk will issue an official summons and guide you accordingly.

    Tip Four: Hire an Attorney

    If the above steps do not resolve the issue, consider seeking legal help from an attorney specialising in landlord-tenant law to get your rental deposit back. 

    An attorney with relevant qualifications could give invaluable advice on your legal rights and obligations under South African law.

    With assistance in navigating the complexities of the Rental Housing Act, it will be easier to understand how it applies to the situation, build a stronger case, and get your rental deposit back.

    An attorney can offer the following:

    • Offer professional advice on the best way to resolve the dispute with your landlord.

    • Make analysing documents - such as the lease and records of correspondence with the landlord - a less strenuous process. 

    • Guide you through the legal process.

    • Offer support in court.

    • Negotiate firmly to ensure you reach a fair settlement.

    Hiring an attorney is a great way to ensure fair treatment and the protection of your rights. However, it can be a costly process. It is, therefore, worthwhile to explore other options first and treat hiring an attorney as a last resort.

    Tip Five: Contact the Rental Housing Tribunal

    If all the above steps fail, then you can contact the Rental Housing Tribunal, a government body established to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. They can provide mediation services and make a ruling on the case.

    The RHT is designed to provide a fair and cost-effective way of settling disputes and help ensure that landlords and tenants are treated fairly in their dealings. Before relying on the RHT, note the following:

    • The most significant advantage to approaching the RHT is that referring disputes is free, aside from a small administrative fee. 

    • The RHT does not have the authority to compel parties to act according to its rulings, meaning it does not hold the same power as a Magistrates’ Court. 

    • Even if the RHT is approached for mediation purposes, it will most likely be necessary to approach lawyers regardless since court rulings are not actively enforced.

    There are several ways to navigate rental deposit challenges with your landlord. But don’t let them overwhelm you. It is best to navigate these steps to avoid any unnecessary escalations, as this can be both stressful and costly. 

    real estate agent handing keys to happy tenants

    At Seeff, we understand the challenges of dealing with an uncooperative landlord. Contact us today for advice and guidance, or read our Home Story blog for a quick and easy guide on how to keep your landlord happy at your new home.

    Author: Seeff Property Group
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