Why understanding your rent lease is key to navigating tenant rights and responsibilities

What you need to know:

  • Upon reflection, it becomes apparent that despite signing the lease agreement, many tenants are unaware of their rights.
  • A tenant has the right to live without interference from the landlord during the agreed-upon period.

Growing up, one of our biggest dream was to break free from parental supervision. Now, as a tenant, the reality feels somewhat unchanged – rather that supervision has simply changed hands.

It’s not just about the monthly rent; landlords have been known to go out of their way and treat tenants as though they were children.

Living with landlords who act like strict relatives, constantly dictating what we can or cannot do has become frustrating to many tenants.

Their authority seems excessive, their control unwarranted, and punishments are doled out without so much as a second thought.

Upon reflection, it becomes apparent that despite signing the lease agreement, many tenants are unaware of their rights.

According to Nuru Mtambo, an advocate of the High Court and founder of NJ Attorneys and Consultancy, understanding tenant rights is crucial because there are rights of tenant spelt under the land act.

Some of the key rights to remember include:

Undisturbed residence

A tenant has the right to live without interference from the landlord during the agreed-upon period.

Ms Nuru shares that if the rent is paid to landlords accordingly, then a tenant has every right to stay and live there without any disturbance.

“Something a tenant should be aware of as one of their rights is the ability to live in the rented area without being disturbed by the landlord for the duration that they have paid to reside there,” she explains.

“For example, if you have paid rent for three months, it means you have the right to stay there for those three months without being bothered by anyone. However, if the landlord wishes to evict you, there is a legal process that needs to be followed, as outlined in the law,” shares Ms Nuru.

Use of facilities and equipment

Tenants have the right to use all facilities within the rented property during their stay. This right is granted by the agreement between the tenant and the landlord.

“This person has the right to use the facilities available in that house, for example, water and other utilities. They have the right to use all amenities since they have paid the cost of residing within that house,” she shares.

Right to privacy

Another right that tenants must be aware of is the right to privacy. This has been a common grievance amongst many tenants who believe their landlords usually cross the line.

Sometimes it’s about the rent, sometimes it’s the behaviour of interference in their privacy that they believe their landlords actually enjoy.

Ms Nuru shares that a landlord cannot access your premises as they please without a genuine reason.

“A landlord can only access your premises after giving your proper notice or when a legitimate emergency occurs such as fire or theft, otherwise it will be interference in the privacy of the tenant,” she shares.

Notice to vacate

Nuru also shares that, it’s really important as tenants to ask for at least a month’s notice in advance to vacate the premises before the landlord kicks you out.

“This is an aspect that some landlords tend to overlook, the fact that they cannot arbitrarily evict a tenant at their discretion. There must be valid reasons for such an action, such as the tenant breaching the contract, causing disturbances to other tenants, or engaging in disruptive behaviour. The eviction process should be grounded in justified cause rather than arbitrary decisions,” she says

However, Ms Nuru also shares that, it is the tenant’s duty to pay the rent and others service charges during the duration of their residency.

Pay rent

Ms Nuru shares that, as tenants, you've got the responsibility to pay your rent on time in accordance to the agreement you signed with your landlord.

“You need to understand that as a tenant, one of your responsibilities is to make sure that you pay your rent; all this is under the Land Act. That's why it’s better to double check the agreement that you have with your landlord before arguing with each other about what time you’re supposed to pay your rent,” she shares.

Paying service charges

There are other landlords that usually charge their tenant service charges within the rent, and there are also some who don’t include them in the rent in which case, you are required to pay these charges.

“If, for example, I have rented my office space and paid rent, there may be additional service charges, such as for the elevator we use, the cleanliness of the shared toilets, and maintaining a clean and safe environment so it is important to pay these service charges,” she says.

However, in some places, these service charges may not apply, as some landlords include them in the rent. Some people, after paying rent, do not encounter these additional charges because the property owner has already included them in the total rent.

To keep the security and safety of facilities and equipment

Since you have been given the authority to use particular property for the specified time, you should ensure that it is secured.

It shouldn't happen that at the end of the day, you have to call the landlord to report that thieves came to steal the toilet sink or that water pipe thieves came to cut it out.

You have been entrusted with the responsibility to live in that space during that period, so you should ensure that security is taken seriously.

“Therefore, one of your responsibilities is to ensure that the area remains clean. It is really important to make sure that everything about that property that has been entrusted to you is well taken care of,” shares Nuru.

However, apart from the rights that a tenant has, there are also limitations.

Landlords and tenants are like cats and dogs or cats and mice; each one making sure there's a loophole to escape, and pointing fingers to the other and oftentimes looking for ways to take advantage of the other.


A sublease refers to the re-renting of property by an existing tenant to a third party for a portion of the tenant’s existing lease contract.

“In most cases, if a tenant wants to sublease or sublet to someone unknown to the landlord, the tenant is required to first seek consent from the landlord. If granted permission, then the tenant can proceed, but it's not something they can unilaterally decide without the landlord's approval," says Nuru.

Further, Nuru shares that there are other limitations which include changing of the rental environment without consent from the landlord.

“Changing the interior without obtaining the landlord’s permission is not a great idea. For example, I want to change the colour and appearance of the house. Ensure that what you are doing aligns with your lease agreement, but it is also your responsibility to inform your landlord of any changes you intend to make to the property,” shares Ms Nuru.

It’s really important as tenant to know your rights so that you are be able to defend yourself when you’re in tough situations.

Knowing your rights it’s the beginning of being able to get the help you need from a legal officer or an advocate who is an expert in land matters should conflict arise.

Should there be a written agreement if a tenant wants to modify their space?

According to Nuru, it’s important for a tenant to have an agreement with their landlord before modifying anything in their rented premises.

"This is one of the aspects that should be included in any tenant agreement, and even if it's not, it is your responsibility to inquire about it to understand the limits with which you can enhance the appearance of the rented space,” says Nuru.

“Regardless of how long you've paid rent, initiating this meeting with your landlord and settling matters with a written is essential. Without doing so, modifications made to the property might lead to difficulties for the next tenant in meeting their obligations,” she shares.

How should a tenant proceed when a landlord raises rent charges after the tenant has modified the place, especially when there was only a verbal agreement?

"One of the rights a landlord has in renting out a property is the ability to adjust rent based on economic conditions. However, increasing rent due to modifications should be explicitly agreed upon,” Nuru explains.

“It is advisable to have these agreements in writing, as upon vacating, you are obligated to leave the property in the agreed-upon condition. While rent reductions may be negotiated, arbitrarily increasing rent is not a common practice. The crucial point is to ensure that the landlord is informed about the modifications you intend to make,” she says.