4 things renters should do before signing a tenancy agreement

Securing a rental property for the first time is exciting but aspiring renters must conduct proper due diligence to ensure their rights are protected.  

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Malaysia does not yet have a Tenancy Law, the government is currently working on the Residential Tenancy Act, which is slated to be completed in 2021. Currently, the Tenancy Agreement is the only thing which governs the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. This legal agreement would serve as the reference point should there be any disputes.

As there are no tribunals or laws in place for issues relating to housing rental, it is extremely important for renters to identify any potential issues which might disrupt their living experience in a rental unit before signing the tenancy agreement. Here we detail the steps tenants should take in spotting rental red flags:

What to check when attending a property viewing?

When inspecting a rental property, don’t take for granted that all the fixtures and fittings are in good working order. Should you not acknowledge any damage prior to moving in, the landlord could claim that the tenant is to be blamed for it. You can use the property viewing checklist below as a guide:

  • Do all the water taps and toilet flushes work well? Is there any dripping water?
  • Is the air conditioning unit in good shape? Switch it on and let it run for 15-20 minutes to ensure its cooling capability.
  • Do all the doors and windows open and close easily? Are the latches/locks functioning?
  • Are all light and fan switches as well as power outlets in working order?
  • Is there a jack/outlet for you to install a modem for internet connection?
  • Do you notice any dampness or water spots on the wall and ceiling? If yes, this might indicate the presence of mould which could cause significant discomfort for tenants with spore allergies or sinus problems.

If it is a fully furnished unit, you should request for an inventory list beforehand – this will assist you when visually inspecting items such as the washing machine, refrigerator and microwave to ensure that they are functioning well. You can then get the landlord to fix or replace any defective items before signing the tenancy agreement.

Does the rental unit match what is advertised on the listing?

Some landlords or real estate agents tend to over-promise. For example, the property listing details that the unit is fitted with branded electrical goods, the mattress provided is brand new and that the unit has recently been refurbished. However, upon inspection should you find that most of the claims are not true, do not waste your time with negotiations. Thank the owner and move on to the next rental unit on your shortlist!

TIP: Real estate agents and negotiators in Malaysia have to be registered with BOVAEA before they can start representing sellers, landlords, buyers and tenants. To check the legitimacy of the negotiator you are dealing with, you can conduct a search at www.lppeh.gov.my  or www.propertyagent.gov.my website under Negotiator Search. 

What questions should you ask the landlord or real estate agent?

You wouldn’t want to live in an environment that’s not peaceful for you, even if you like the property. Some issues may not be immediately obvious, so you have to ask the real estate agent or landlord if they could accommodate you for the following:

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Can I visit the unit during another time or day?

The rental unit which you visited during your viewing might not be as perfect during other times of the day. Drop by during the weekend or late evening to determine if you would still enjoy living there when the building is at its full capacity. You might just discover that you have really noisy neighbours at night and that the lifts are permanently clogged in the evenings. If the property is popular with Airbnb or Booking.com tenants, you might not get to enjoy the building facilities freely too – imagine competing for the swimming pool, jacuzzi and gymnasium with holidaying families and weekend tourists!

Traffic conditions could also make or break a rental property decision. Try your best to visit the property during peak hours; will your daily commute to and fro between work and home be a stressful one?

Can I meet the next-door neighbour?

This tip is especially recommended for those looking to rent a landed property or a home in a gated and guarded community. If both parties are agreeable to this, drop by your future neighbour’s unit for a quick chat – you can get some valuable insight into the neighbourhood’s environment, some resident tips or find out if there is any current issue which might affect your living experience in the development.

Why did the last tenant leave?

The answer to this question may be enlightening – and while it’s rarely that extreme, it is worth asking.

This step will also help you determine if your property agent or landlord is genuine or not. Should they hesitate to answer any of your questions, deflect your requests or discourage you from asking more about the development and environment, you should take this as a warning sign. An uncooperative landlord is very likely to be difficult in the event of problems arising such as when repairs are required for an item which came with the rental unit.

What tenancy agreement terms are unreasonable?

First-time renters might be unsure over what classifies as an unreasonable request or not. Here we list down what you should look out for in the tenancy agreement:

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When to pay rent?

Most landlords will stipulate that the rental must be paid by a certain date every month and that they would charge for late rent payment. This term is a fair one and if it is in the Tenancy Agreement, then it is binding and should be adhered accordingly. You can, however, discuss with your landlord regarding an additional clause to be inserted to protect yourself during unforeseen circumstances – for instance, if you have proof of loss of income or a medical emergency, you can then obtain a reasonable extension (up to 2 weeks) to pay off rent owed in that month.

Security deposit

It is a common practice in Malaysia for landlords to ask for a security deposit amounting to the rental sum for two months and half a month’s rent as the utility deposit (water and electricity). So, if the monthly rental is RM2,000, you will have to pay security and utility deposit of RM5,000. Anything higher may be unreasonable. Make sure these deposit terms are stated clearly in your rental agreement.

Quite a few tenants face an issue in obtaining the deposit amount from their landlord upon moving out. You can include a detailed deposit clause in your tenancy agreement to avoid the landlord from taking his sweet time in reimbursing the amount owed to you. Of course, you should be holding your end of the bargain too by ensuring that the unit is well taken care of and there were no damages inflicted during your stay.

Special clauses

Whenever signing a legal tenancy contract, tenants should tread carefully and read the fine print. Some unscrupulous landlords might try to take advantage of unsuspecting tenants and include terms which greatly disadvantage the tenant. This includes a term on the tenant having to pay a “fee” for ending the tenancy contract early, even if he or she manages to secure another tenant to replace them; the landlord is allowed to enter the unit at any time or to use the unit to store their personal items/goods. Don’t be rushed with signing the agreement and if you don’t understand something, ask or get advice from someone you trust.

For more tips, check out: What are the terms that should be in a Tenancy Agreement for a rental property?

What happens when I have a dispute with my landlord?

In the case of disputes, it is best for the tenant to seek legal assistance. Do take note that even if you are late with your rental payment, the landlord does not have the right to forcefully enter the rental unit.

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In fact, any tenant eviction has to start with a court order. In the case of any disagreement or argument, your landlord does not have the right to issue threats, cut off the access to water and electricity or to even changing the locks of your door.

Some of the laws which could be relied upon in rental disputes are:

  • Contracts Act 1950 – for matters related to the tenancy agreement.
  • Civil Law Act 1956 – for matters related to rent payment.
  • Distress Act 1951 – for when landlords wish to evict their tenant; tenant rights pertaining to the matter.
  • Specific Relief Act 1950 – landlords are prohibited from evicting the tenant, change the locks, etc without a court order.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to do before you sign the tenancy agreement is to make sure whatever has been discussed or agreed upon with the landlord, e.g: repairs, replacement of furniture, etc. has been done before you make any form of rental payment. It doesn’t hurt to maintain a good relationship throughout the tenancy period too – most disputes usually can be settled with a frank discussion and some compromise.

If you enjoyed this guide, read this next: Should I buy a home or continue renting?

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