Landlords need tenants, and tenants need landlords. That doesn’t necessarily mean they always have to be the best of friends – and, like anywhere else, disputes are commonplace in Bermuda. But if you want to build a good relationship and keep arguments to a minimum, the best starting place is to ensure everyone knows their responsibilities.
While all leases are different, Susan Thompson, agency manager for Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty, said the landlord is usually responsible for maintenance of the physical property, grounds and appliances, taxes and insurance.
A tenant is generally responsible for the deposit, rent, payment of utilities and cost of water if they run out. The tenant must also keep the property in a good tenable condition and ensure that when they vacate it is in the same condition as when they moved in. Their routine maintenance responsibilities usually include fixing items such as locks, hinges, screens, lightbulbs, and faucets.
In the case of condos, the landlord is also responsible for maintenance fees and the tenant for abiding by regulations.
So, are there any grey areas?
“In general, no, there are not,” Ms. Thompson said. “It should all be spelled out in the lease and it is also spelled out in the Landlord and Tenant Act.”
It’s critical for all parties to fully understand the lease.
Ms. Thompson said: “You have to make sure a person reads the lease and understands what is in it. You have to know what’s your responsibility as a landlord or tenant. You have to understand what you are getting yourself into.”
“Some leases are very poorly written. There’s no standard lease on the island, so you get all sorts of things from a one-pager to oral leases, which is just asking for trouble.”
Sometimes tenants don’t read the small print.
“People don’t give themselves enough time,” Ms. Thompson said. “They’re in a rush to move into their new home and there’s so many things to do. If they would give themselves a couple of extra days to do everything, they would have more time to read the lease properly and think of what else might need to be included.”
“Ask questions. If it’s not in the contract, have it put in there. For example, you might notice the air conditioner isn’t working properly. You could add put into the contract that if it’s not repaired within 30 days, the tenant can get it repaired and take it off the rent with a receipt.”
Bear in mind that the expectations of the landlord might not always line up with those of the tenant.
“How you keep a house might not be the way I expect to have a house kept,” Ms. Thompson explained. “I was always taught that if you borrow something from somebody you leave it in as good a condition or better when you leave.”
Ms. Thompson provided advice on a few common issues.
Wear and tear
Inspect the property together at the start of the tenancy, take photos and sign a condition report which can be used as a reference point on vacating.
Ms. Thompson likened it to hiring a car. “You walk around the car, and you write down any bumps and conks. If you see a big indentation, you take a picture of it, so that when you take the car back you can prove it was already there.
“The same procedure you go through when renting a car, you want to do that on steroids with renting an apartment or house.”
Repainting the inside of the property
This is common practice in Bermuda and typically spelled out in the lease. Ms. Thompson said: “On a rare occasion the landlord may wish to have the property painted themselves or if it is short lease of a year or less the landlord may not require painting if it does not warrant – this is at the landlord’s discretion.”
Cleaning the property
Sometimes, the lease requires the property is professionally cleaned before the tenant vacates, particularly if there is a carpet. If there have been pets, there is usually a clause stating it must be professionally cleaned and fumigated.
Ms. Thompson said: “The property should be thoroughly cleaned – inside cupboards, closets, all floors, windows, and appliances. The property should be clean to ‘move in ready’ for the next tenant.”
Ms. Thompson said landlords often complain about late or unpaid rent, damage to the property, too many people living there and pets being kept without permission. Complaints from tenants include maintenance not being carried out as promised, lack of privacy from landlords who live on the property and rental increases.
“In Bermuda, we have some excellent, conscientious landlords that are very responsive to taking care of maintaining a property and then there are those at the other end of the spectrum. The same could be said about tenants,” Ms. Thompson said.
If a landlord does not carry out their responsibilities, the tenant should keep a record of the issues and reporting to the landlord. If the landlord does not reply in a timely fashion, the tenant should contact Consumer Affairs.
If the landlord suspects the tenant is not meeting their responsibilities, there is usually a clause within the lease allowing them to inspect the property with 24 hours’ notice. The landlord can also give notice to terminate if the tenant does not comply with the conditions of the lease; if the tenant refuses to vacate, the landlord can take the matter to court.
Hopefully, though, the situation won’t go that far.
Ms. Thompson said: “It’s about having consideration for both parties. Honesty. Doing what you’re obligated to do.”
“Treat people the way you expect people to be treated and things will go a lot better for you. We are human beings. Don’t take the approach that the other person has done something deliberately, take the softer approach first and say there is some confusion here.”