What should you check before renting? Is there anything you shouldn’t do? How to avoid problems with the landlord or rental property? To these questions and more, we have the answers so that you don’t repeat the mistakes made by tenants before you.
There is a word from Chinese folk belief, “Dizushen” (地主神) that translates to The Landlord God and oftentimes, it does feel like that. Some tenants might feel that they are at the mercy of property landlords. If you feel overwhelmed or confused over certain renting procedures, worry not as we have compiled this cheat sheet for you!
Before we dive in, let’s assume this Point of View: You’ve made your first move to rent a room or rent a house and set up a property viewing. The real estate agent arrives, you take it all in and ask your questions – the viewing is completed. You are happy to proceed and get ready to pay the deposit.
Mistake 1: Failing to record property defects down in the inventory list
But wait! Did you know, you can request for a draft agreement before paying the security deposit? This is your first tip: Have a good read of the tenancy agreement and pay good attention to the inventory list. When you move in, the estate agent will have to go through the inventory list, one by one with you. Checking each light fixture, water tap, cabinet, all the appliances, furniture and so on. You will have your chance to point out any defects in the property and record them down in the inventory list. This is so that the Landlord will not penalize you for something that is already damaged at the start of your tenancy.
Mr Chan’s POV: I just moved into my rental property and a week later, I realised several of the window latches was broken. I called the landlord who proceeded to say that since it wasn’t in the inventory list, this must be a new problem that only occurred after I moved in! I was furious of course, and the argument went on unnecessarily but what could I have done? It wasn’t recorded so the Landlord God won this one.
Here are some other things you should know before renting/deciding on a rental property in Malaysia.
Mistake 2: Not identifying unusual clauses in your tenancy agreement
What next? Read through everything. That is, you want to be well versed with the tenancy agreement. This is because some agreements have clauses which state that there is a minimum/maximum expenditure when it comes to maintaining the property. For example, an agreement could mention that the tenant is responsible for any repair work below RM250, while the landlord will cover any repair work above RM250. In essence, this means most internal problems that a tenant faces such as fused bulbs, leaking taps and jammed windows will have to be fixed by the tenant. However, if there are any substantial damages such as a pipe burst, air conditioning motor malfunction or if the roof starts leaking – then the landlord will have to bear the cost!
Nasir’s POV: I had the opportunity to rent a very luxurious apartment in KL. What really caught my eye was the diamond water filtration system. Little did I know, I was solely responsible for the maintenance of this filtration system (which was mentioned in the tenancy agreement). Unfortunately, I missed this clause and had to pay extra (a painful amount) at the end of my tenancy because I had missed the scheduled maintenance dates.
Mistake 3: Using appliances that are foreign to Malaysia
You have been renting for a few months now and everything is wonderful! But all of a sudden, there is a blackout in your home! You’ve been paying your utility bills on time – What could it be?
This is a tip for all my fellow expatriates out there. Whether you hail from Japan, India or the United Kingdom – Staying overseas can be a challenging thing and we all want it to be as hassle-free as possible! So we end up re-using electrical appliances from our home country. This often means having to use a universal power adapter which can fail from time to time and cause a power imbalance between power generation and consumption which leads to blackouts! Sometimes the fix is as easy as flicking a switch in your fuse box. Worst case scenario (and you really want to avoid this) involves burnt switch boxes, an electrician and lots of money.
If you intend on renting an apartment in Malaysia, try to find similar appliances which are sold locally to avoid this problem.
Mrs Nguyen’s POV: I had just landed in Malaysia for the first time. Coming from Vietnam, I had a very specific rice cooker that I use to make rice. I did not have any problems using this with a universal power adapter. But eventually, darkness had arrived as the rice cooker short-circuited and bubbled for the last time. I had to buy a new rice cooker and pay the electrician for a melted power socket. Ouch. Talk about spoiled rice, eh?
Here are more renting tips for expats: A foreigner’s guide to renting a property in Malaysia
Mistake 4: Not discussing with your landlord what happens if you have to exit the tenancy early
You need to leave and evacuate your rental property 3 months earlier than expected. You thought, why not let your friend stay for the next 3 months, as it might be wasteful to leave the unit empty. You can’t break the tenancy and you will have to pay rent till the end of the term anyway, so someone might as well enjoy it. This is unfortunately illegal because the tenancy agreement clearly states ‘you’ are the tenant. Anyone else staying there can be taken as trespassing. What you can do is to clarify with the Agent and/or Landlord before signing the tenancy agreement what would happen if you need to leave sooner than the stated term. If it is not stated in the tenancy agreement, you may offer suggestions such as someone else undertaking your remaining term or specific clauses to be included if the reason for leaving is out of your control such as the renewal of a visa being rejected.
Rahul’s POV: Rahul from India had a very promising job in an IT company here in Malaysia, where he played an important part in something very technical. He had signed a tenancy agreement for 2 years. However, in the second year of his stay in Malaysia, he was not able to renew his Visa. Thankfully, in this case, the landlord was merciful and allowed him to break the tenancy without any penalties. But this can’t be said for others who had to fork out thousands of ringgit for breaking their tenancy.
SEE WHAT OTHERS ARE READING:
Early termination of Tenancy Agreement in Malaysia and its consequences
Stamp duty, administration & legal fees for tenancy agreements: How much to pay?
Mistake 6: Renewing your tenancy agreement without a binding agreement
Your rental term has ended and you decide you want to stay on. You want to use the option to renew your tenancy for another year as stated in the agreement. Great! So, you call your landlord and he accepts verbally, confirming the option to renew which includes all your benefits that were discussed in your original agreement. And you’re set! Everything is done.
Is it tho?
The landlord or agent will have to prepare a one-page agreement that lays out the renewal option and clearly states that all clauses are based on the original rental agreement. Both parties will have to sign this and keep a copy. If this is not done, either party could argue that the extended period is not based on the original terms. Property rental, security deposit and maintenance of the property could all become fighting points in the future.
Abdul Hakim’s POV: Abdul has been living in Kuala Lumpur for the past 5 years. He had signed a tenancy agreement for 2 years with an option of adding on 2 years. Not only did he not officially renew his tenancy agreement but he stayed on for an additional year, exceeding the tenancy agreement. The landlord did not mind at the time. However, when the landlord heard news of his neighbours having increased rent by RM500, he wanted to do the same for his tenant. Abdul Hakim and the landlord had to compromise on this. Because there wasn’t any official documentation, the landlord said that Abdul Hakim had to either vacate in a month’s time or pay the increase in rent. Poor Abdul Hakim had no choice as he did not want to spend money and time moving out.
And there you have it. Use this cheat sheet and learn up on your tenant rights and obligations. The Landlord Gods may rule us, but that does not mean we are powerless in the game of renting. Check out some popular rental listings in the KL here!
Note: Pseudonyms were used for the renters’ POV shared in this article to maintain privacy.