MUMBAI: When it comes to the relationship between a property owner and a tenant, it's best to be safe than sorry. Yet, hasty decisions, cutting corners and blindly trusting brokers are the reasons for many a legal battle waged by landowners against rogue tenants. Take the case of Mumbai-based Merlyn D'Souza.
In 2008, she relied on a broker to lease her second home at Nahur, Mumbai. "The family seemed decent and I thought it was completely safe to rent the property. However, my worst fears came true when the tenant refused to vacate the property after completing the year-long tenure," says the 37-year-old. She could not approach the police since it was a civil matter. So, D'Souza was advised to approach the courts, and was told that the property would be vacated only if the judgement was in her favour. Fortunately, D'Souza was saved a long legal battle when one of the local, influential brokers intervened and helped her settle the matter.
Exercising caution at the time of renting one's property is the only way to avoid being in the situation that D'Souza, and many others like her, find themselves in. Here are the dos and don'ts that home owners must follow to ensure that their property is in safe hands.
Conduct background checks
It is important to check the antecedents of a potential tenant before signing the paperwork. You can ask for a reference certificate from the tenant, and also enquire from his previous landlord. Make sure you ask for a valid permanent address since it may be useful if you need to track down the tenant. Lastly, check his office address and carefully go through the documents submitted.
A background check is not enough; you need the official nod from the police. Indeed, tenant verification at a local police station is mandatory for landlords. Ignoring this step is a punishable offence under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. In Delhi alone, 49 cases were registered in July 2013 against errant property owners and their tenants.
The landlord simply needs to fill in the details of the tenant in the police verification form (available online in several states). This has to be submitted, along with the tenant's photo and copies of documents, such as PAN card,lease agreement and address proof, at the local police station. This reduces the risk of having tenants with a criminal background. A copy of this certificate needs to be submitted to your housing society office too.
Registering the lease agreement
If you are renting your property for a few months, a lease agreement is not mandatory, but it is for leases of over 11 months. This document contains details like tenure of the agreement, rent payable, deposit amount, any clauses that may result in cancellation of the agreement, and applicable penalty in case the tenant refuses to vacate. If you are planning to rent the property for more than a year, it is mandatory to get the lease agreement registered. This offers a layer of security to the landlord in case the tenant refuses to vacate or pay rent.
Grounds for eviction
A landlord can ask the tenant to leave if he has completed the tenure as per the lease agreement. Other valid grounds are refusal to pay the rent or indulging in unlawful activities on your property. You can demand eviction if the tenant has sub-let a part or all of your property without your permission. Unfortunately, due diligence in selecting a tenant and an iron-clad lease agreement are no guarantees against legal hassles with rogue tenants. So what is a landlord to do in such cases?
Approach the designated authority in your state: According to Rajan Hiranandani, a Mumbai-based real estate advocate, under the Rent Control Act, every state government has appointed a competent authority to oversee disputes related to rented property within its borders. So a landlord is free to approach this body. "He should carry with him all the registered documents since these can add strength to the case. The authority then listens to both the parties and arrives at a decision," he adds. This process could take 5-6 months.
As mentioned earlier, approaching the local police will not help. "The police can only intervene if the tenant is involved in an illegal activity. It has no jurisdiction if the tenant refuses to vacate the premises or pay rent," points out advocate and property expert Vinod Sampat. This is also true in case of a housing society. "The police can, of course, act once the judicial order arrives in favour of the landlord and the court orders the tenant to vacate the property," adds Sampat.
Approach the civil court: In case either party is not happy with the decision given by the state competent authority, he may approach the small cause or city civil court. "There is no fixed period to sort things at this level. The case may go on for a year or two before the final decision is taken. If the judgement fails to satisfy both the parties, the high court can be approached," says Hiranandani.
The one thing a landlord must refrain from doing is opting for strongarm tactics. Trying to vacate the tenant through use of force is illegal. "It is also not advisable to shut off utilities like electricity or water connection in order to compel the tenant to vacate the property," says Ravi Goenka, a high court advocate at Goenka Law Associates.