You are about to rent an apartment. A person purporting to represent the landlord presents you with a single sheet of paper and shows you where to sign on the dotted line (“it’s just standard wording,” he assures you). What should you look out for to protect your interests?
In Part I of this article, we discussed the issues of obtaining a valid power of attorney in the case of an absentee landlord; the importance of making an inspection of the property before signing the lease; adding e-mail as a valid form of communication between the parties;
what to do when the landlord requests rent in advance; the advantages of an option-to-renew; and premature termination of the lease.
We conclude this article, with a series of further practical issues to consider before signing the lease.
Payment of expenses (Arnonah, water, Va’ad Bayit)
In terms of paying expenses – the tenant should only be responsible for usual expenses and regular Va’ad Bayit (Building Maintenance Committee) costs, not for building repairs or improvements/renovations (installing an Intercom system or fixing a lift in the building, replacing a solar heater on the roof, etc). Arnonah, the municipal tax on the apartment, can be high (it includes the water bill), so be careful to ask how much you will have to pay in advance (although as an Oleh Chadash you are entitled to a discount of up to 90% on the bill for the first year, on presentation of your lease to the Iriyah-Municipality). Arnonah is payable according to the number of rooms and amount of space in the apartment – hence it is important for the contract to make clear if one room is closed to you by the landlord.
You should also inquire in advance as to how much you will have to pay monthly to the Va’ad Bayit of the building (if there is no Va’ad Bayit, you will be responsible for performing your share of the upkeep of the common parts of the apartment building).
Repairs and Maintenance of property
You should likewise be responsible only for repairs caused by your use of the property – not for fair wear and tear. The contract should be formulated in such a way as to make it clear that the renter is responsible only for repairs above and beyond what is normal usage, and that the owner is responsible for all other repairs (such as structure, wiring/fuse box, and dampness/plumbing). In the case of an absentee landlord, check who will be your reference point if any repairs need to be effected during the term of your lease. Remember that you do not want to have to be dealing remotely, through an absentee landlord who may be 7-10 hours distance away from you, especially in the case where urgent repairs may be required.
A property manager or agent inIsraelis therefore highly recommended.
You should insure your own belongings, while the landlord should insure property and contents belonging to him.
It is normal to be required to give some form of security deposit.
If a personal check is given, you should write on the check hamcha’at bitachon bilvad – lo sachir, clarifying that the check is for security deposit only and is not negotiable. An undated blank check might be asked for by the landlord, in which case the lease should state by whom the check will be held and clear terms as to the conditions under which the check should be cashed and when it will be returned to you. Whether or not you are required to provide a promissory note (shtar chov) and one or more guarantors (areivim) often depends on how good a negotiator you are! If a shtar chov has to be given, it should be limited in amount (at a level of no more than 3 months’ rent, especially when the rental term is not for many years and where the apartment and furnishings are not in mint condition). A demand to furnish a bank guarantee (areivut bankait) in particular should generally be resisted by the tenant, as it both costs money for its issue and locks up with the bank the amount on the guarantee; in addition, the landlord can cash it in without giving any notice to the tenant. Obviously, from a tenant’s point of view, the less security he needs to give the better and easier for him (especially as it may be near impossible for a new immigrant to provide a guarantor, let alone two).
Signing of contract
Finally, every hand-written change to the lease should be initialed by both parties. Likewise, the parties should initial at the bottom of every page of the contract, with their full signature on the signature page.
In general, remember: standard rental contracts inIsraeltend to be very landlord-weighted (much as employment contracts tend to be weighted in favor of the employer), and you should not be afraid to negotiate the points therein! That said,
it goes without saying that even negotiations need to be undertaken in a fair and balanced manner (and in good faith) – otherwise, you run the risk that the landlord will not want to take you as his tenant
if he gets the impression that the entire tenancy will involved him in a negotiation match…