A tenant is a person (human or legal) who has the right to use and occupy property in accordance with a tenancy agreement or lease. Sometimes, a tenant is referred to a lessee.
With a tenancy/lease agreement (hereinafter referred to a tenancy agreement) begins the land-lord tenant relationship. As a tenant, you have rights and duties which must be complied with for a good landlord-tenant relationship.
Let us start with the rights:
Most importantly, you have the right to exclusive possession of the property. This means that even though the landlord owns the property, you have the right to enjoy the use of that property without interference from the landlord. Your landlord may not access the property without good notice to you. The notice must state the reason why he needs to access the property and when he intends to access the property. You as the tenant, of course, has the right to tell your landlord that you are not available to facilitate his access on the said date.
More so, access of the property by the landlord should be only for reasons meant to benefit the tenant such as fixing a leakage, or making any other repairs which fall within the duties of the landlord. The notice must be of at least 24 hours. Notice may however not be given if the tenant consents to immediate access of the property. This may be due to emergencies such as leaking water pipes.
The tenant also has a right to property that is in a tenantable condition. This means that the property should be habitable and fit for the purpose for which the tenant needs it. For example, if it is property meant to be a dwelling place (a home), then it must indeed be habitable. Sewerage should not be leaking neither should shutters be broken. The place should also be free from pests, the plumbing and water proofing should be good too. These conditions must be maintained by the landlord throughout the time of the tenancy agreement.
When repairs to make the property habitable are to be made, they should be at the cost of the landlord. However, this is only limited to such repairs which are necessitated out of the normal tear and wear of the affected areas or even out of circumstances which are beyond the tenant’s making. For damage caused by the tenant, he or she must fix them, but at a reasonable cost. Utility bills are also the sole responsibility of the tenant. Taxes due on the property are however the responsibility of the landlord.
In the instance that the landlord refuses to make repairs to the property, the tenant may address the problem by first giving notice to the landlord. In the notice, define what damage needs to be repaired and give the landlord reasonable time within which to make the repairs. If the landlord does not perform his duty to repair, you the tenant can do the repairs and you may deduct the same amount from your rent, after submitting receipts to the landlord.
However, be careful not to make repairs without consulting your lawyer first. This is to cushion you from any conflict that may arise between you and the landlord over the cost of the repairs and your subsequent decision to deduct the said cost from your rent.
Like all rights, the rights of a tenant come with duties.
You have the duty to use the property for the purpose which you have got the property for. For example, if it is an apartment you are obliged to use the property as a residence. If the property is for use as an office, you must not use the property as a residence, but as an office. You have the duty to disclose to the tenant the kind of work you may want to carry out on his property if it is being let out as office space. For example, a landlord would be interested to know if your work is shop keeping, lawyering, medical consulting or even animal rearing so that he knows if he can take on your tenancy or not.
It is also your duty to pay rent to the landlord. Rent must be paid as the landlord prescribes. Most landlords demand that rent be paid at the end/beginning of every month for the month beginning, not the month ending. In short, you must pre-pay your rent. Other landlords require advance payment of rent on a quarterly or a bi-annual basis. However, terms of rent payment are usually stated in the tenancy agreement and you should pay specific attention to that clause on payment of rent so that you are not subjected to alien payment terms. Please remember that non-payment of rent is a ground for termination of the tenancy agreement, without sufficient notice.
A delay in rent payments may attract a penalty. On top of rent payments, some landlords require a security deposit which you are obliged to pay. The security deposit is refundable at the end of the tenancy agreement. However, part of the security deposit may be used to offset any damage to the property by the tenant.
It is also your obligation as a tenant especially when you are occupying shared property like an apartment not to inhibit the enjoyment of the property by other tenants. You must not play very loud music, rare pets which litter and make a lot of noise, keep things in your house which may harm other tenants.
As a tenant, you have the duty to maintain the form of the property. You should not knock down any walls or alter the architecture of the property. You must also keep your part of the property clean and well maintained. You should not tamper with any safety alarms on the property.
When you are considering leaving the property, it is your obligation to give your landlord notice of your intention to leave. This is usually referred to a termination notice. Mostly, landlords require a notice of 30-90 days.
The above are the common terms regarding the duties of a tenant in a tenancy agreement. The terms of a tenancy agreement can only be changed by agreement of both the landlord and the tenant.
BY SAMALI BITALA
This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 8, Issue 1 of August 4th, 2017
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