What you should know before renting a house in Chennai

A guide for prospective tenants on rights and responsibilities, before renting a house in Chennai.

“My landlord asked me to vacate the house I had rented, on two days notice, as he was unhappy that I had a friend visiting me. I was blindsided at having to leave with my belongings at such short notice. I stayed at a friend’s house till I was able to find another place”, says Aditya (name changed), a researcher at a think-tank in Chennai.

This scenario might sound all too familiar to those living in rented homes in the city. Aggrieved tenants can be seen taking to the various Facebook groups dedicated to finding rental homes, to seek opinions and share their frustrations. Young people are particularly hard-pressed to find accommodation that will not interfere with their lifestyle despite their influx  to Chennai for employment.

Credits: Wikimedia

What tenants should know

In such a situation, it is crucial for tenants to be aware of their rights and responsibilities while entering into an agreement to rent a house. V Kannadasan, an advocate in the Madras High Court, lays out the following checklist for tenants.

  • Tenants must thoroughly examine the house to check for any pre-existing damages or repairs that are necessary, so as to not be held liable for them later.
  • Tenants must compulsorily sign a rental agreement with the landlord, with details such as terms and conditions, rental amount, time frame, responsibilities of the tenant with regard to maintenance of the house, fittings that come with the house and their present condition etc.
  • The tenant must read and vet the rental agreement thoroughly, and agree on any conditions that are proposed by the landlord, before signing the agreement.
  • Tenants must ensure that they pay the rent on time and procure rent receipts from the landlord as proof. Digital payments also ensure that there is a trail in case of disputes.
  • Tenants must give a notice period of at least one month, or a time frame agreed upon in the rental agreement, before vacating the premises. The notice period to be provided by the landlord must be fixed in the rental agreement so that the tenant would have adequate time to vacate the premises.
  • Tenants must not sublet the premises without the knowledge of the landlord.

What the law says

The law that dictates the landlord-tenant relationship in Tamil Nadu is the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Rights and Responsibilities of Landlords and Tenants Act, 2017. As per the provisions of this Act:

  • Unless otherwise agreed upon in the rental agreement, the landlord must not charge an advance in excess of three times the monthly rent.
  • The advance amount must be refunded to the tenant within one month of the vacation of the premises.
  • Rent may not be increased during a fixed term tenancy that is under a tenancy agreement for a specified period, unless the terms are set out in the rental agreement.
  • In case of increase of rent, the landlord must give three months’ prior notice before the increased rent is due.
  • Landlord may enter the rented premises only after issuing a prior notice to the tenant 24-hours before the time of entry.
  • Landlord may not cut off or withhold essential services such as water and electricity to the rented premises.
  • The landlord may not arbitrarily evict a tenant during the period of tenancy. On failure of both parties to come to an agreement about vacating the premises, a Rent Court can order eviction of the tenant based on an application made by the landlord; this is in cases where the tenant has violated the conditions of the rental agreement, failed to pay rent, failed to agree on rent, misused the premises by encroachment, caused public nuisance, damaged property or used it in a way that is detrimental to the interest of the landlord. Rent Courts are the only courts that have the power to hear and decide on disputes between landlords and tenants.
  • The landlord can also make an application to the Rent Court to get the tenant evicted in order to carry out repairs or for occupation of the premises by themselves or a family member if they do not have other suitable accommodation in the area.

Advocate Kannadasan adds, “Tenants and landlords must know what they are signing up for. They must respect the conditions of the rental agreement. Sometimes an agreement will include provisions such as not having an overnight guest, or a cap on the number of residents in a household. Such terms must be agreed upon by both before finalising the contract and ensure these are not violated.”

Those seeking to rent residential property should be aware of these provisions, to make informed decisions. Knowledge of their rights will ensure more transparency in the process. While landlords routinely flout provisions such as collecting only three months’ advance and the procedures for increasing rent, tenants can seek legal recourse at the Rent Court if their rights are violated.

However, Advocate Kannadasan offers a word of caution on moving the courts as there is the possibility of such cases taking over two years to be resolved.

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