Guide to Renting a Property in South Africa

Guide to Renting a Property in South Africa

Guide to Renting a Property in South Africa. What you need to know when thinking about renting a property in South Africa as a British Expat.

Charlotte Marais · 8 minute read

So, you have decided to make the big move. You’re leaving behind the grey skies and heading to the land of biltong, braais’ and bountiful beaches.

Whether you are looking to rent your dream apartment overlooking the sea, a spacious townhouse in the heart of suburbia, or a small holding where you can grow your own produce and revel in the wonders of nature, understanding your rental rights and the rental process is essential before moving to South Africa.

By understanding how the process works, you avoid potential pitfalls and sneaky additional costs. You can also ensure that you have all the proper documentation at hand and don’t get caught out by unscrupulous agents looking to make an extra buck or take advantage of your newbie status in a new country.

So, what about the legal nitty-gritty of renting property as an expat?

Before you find the property of your dreams, you’ll need to have a brief understanding of your property rights as a tenant. Under South African law, you’ll need to either have permanent residency (PR) status or a visa that allows for business, study or stay for a particular duration. Under these conditions, foreigners are legally entitled to rent property in the country and are known as ‘legal foreigners’ under the Immigration Act.

What documentation will landlords or rental agents need?

Property owners and rental agents can face certain risks if travel, PR status, and visa documentation are not sufficiently checked. Potential landlords will usually require proof of your travel documents and visas and in the event of studying or working in the country, evidence from your employer or educational institution.

This is primarily to protect themselves, as housing an illegal foreigner is a criminal offence known as ‘aiding and abetting’ and could result in persecution.

Since some rental contracts are a year or longer, the duration of your stay will also be considered. Finally, they will likely need proof of your earnings to ensure that you can afford rental and the deposit.

Foreign nationals cannot be blacklisted in the country and, as such, won’t face the same consequences if rent is not paid. For this reason, it’s vital to get the following documents together before you start looking for a rental property:

• Passport • Visa stipulating the guidelines of your stay or permanent residency status • Letter from employer or place of study • Bank statements • References • Enough money for a deposit (usually two months, but may be more depending on the nuances of the particular rental agreement)

What types of property can you rent in South Africa?

When it comes to the types of properties available in South Africa, the world is truly your oyster. Depending on your requirements and location, costs can vary considerably. Popular property types by order of space and size include:

• Bachelor/Studio apartment: A small flatlet, usually advertised as having 0.5 bedrooms. Includes a bathroom, small kitchenette, and shared lounge and bedroom space. Pet-friendly options are harder to find when it comes to bachelor flats.

• Flat: This is bigger than a bachelor flatlet and usually consists of one, two, or three separate bedrooms. Occasionally has a private garden space but most often a small balcony or a communal shared garden amongst tenants. Pet-friendly options aren’t always available but can be found. Most rentals are more accepting of cats than dogs. Parking spaces or garages may have to be rented additionally.

• Townhouse: Usually found within a complex or a freestanding property. It may be a bungalow (or semi) with one floor or a duplex with two floors. It might include a garden and is usually more pet friendly than flats or bachelor apartments. Some houses will come with parking and others will require tenants to park on the street.

• Cottage/separate entrance flatlet: Commonly known as a separate entrance in South Africa, these smaller cottages are usually found within the grounds of a larger home. They may be directly linked to the house or a separate building. As their name stipulates, they have a sperate entrance to the main house and are lived in as a separate home.

• Detached house: These are usually family-sized homes and could have between two and five bedrooms depending on space. These homes will usually have one or two storeys and an outdoor space with parking.

• Small-holding/farm: Small-holdings or farms offer ample space. They usually consist of a farmhouse or cottage surrounding by land. Many of these plots might be suited to small-scale farming and include arable land.

Where can you find rental homes?

When it comes to finding rental homes in South Africa, the Internet is your best bet.

What are the top rental websites in South Africa?


If you’re not in the country already and cannot personally view properties, you can also go through an estate agent. By contacting them and sharing your ideal location, preferences, budget, and time frame, you can have more hands-on-deck to help you find the perfect home.

What are the top real estate agents in South Africa?

  1. RE/MAX
  2. Seeff
  3. Pam Golding
  4. Rawson
  5. Jawitz Properties
  6. Chas Everitt
  7. Just Property

You can also use social media to your advantage and join various Facebook groups.

What are the top South African rental groups on Facebook?

  1. Huis Huis
  2. Huis Huis (Pet friendly)
  3. House Me
  4. Rental Rooms Around Johannesburg

What is the rental process?

Once you have found your perfect home, you will most likely pay a holding deposit to the estate agent. They will liaise with the landlord, and once reference checks have been conducted and documentation has been checked, you will receive your tenancy agreement. This should include the following information:

• Landlord’s details • Estate agents’ details • Tenants’ details • Property address • Rental amount and payment schedule (including deposits) • Rental increases that have been agreed • Tenant and landlord agreements and responsibilities • Termination conditions • A signed inventory report if agreed upon. Most rentals will have an in-going and out-going inspection to avoid any disagreement or deposit issues.

What are the costs involved?

Costs will vary depending on the type of property you choose to rent and the city you live in. If you go through a real estate agent, there might be some additional charges, including reference checks or holding fees. You have every right to request receipts and view a breakdown of these costs.

As a rule of thumb, you will most likely need to pay:

• One- or two-months deposit before moving in • The first month of rental • Registration fees and reference check fees

Cape Town is one of the most expensive rental cities, surpassing Durban, Pretoria, and Johannesburg. If you’re moving to the so-called Mother City, expect to pay a bit more. But remember, you also have free use of the gorgeous beaches, Table Mountain, and nature reserves galore!

How does internet work in rental homes?

Setting up a secure internet connection is paramount to most expats, especially if you want to keep in touch with loved ones or work from home. Most rentals will come without internet, so you’ll need to set this up separately. You will need a landline (which you apply for) and then a chosen Internet provider. Fibre internet solutions are becoming all the more common, so fast internet is accessible.

You can also explore WI-FI dongle/USB options if you don’t want the hassle of getting a landline installed.

Popular internet providers in South Africa:

  1. Telkom (a partially state-owned telecommunications company)
  2. MWEB
  3. Webafrica
  4. Afrihost
  5. Axxess
  6. Home-connect

Since you might need a registered home address before applying for Internet solutions, you could opt to get a South African sim card and purchase data in the interim. Top South African mobile service providers include:

  1. MTN
  2. Vodacom
  3. Cell C
  4. Rain (a data-only network)

What about moving out of a rental home and deposits?

If you wish to terminate your contract before it ends, you will need to check the notice period stipulated on your tenancy agreement. You will have to check if there is a termination clause. In the event of termination when a landlord has failed to adhere to their agreement, you can give 20 days’ notice. (However, a payment might still be required depending on the situation).

Once an outgoing assessment has been conducted on the property, you should receive your deposit (minus any possible damages) within 21 days.

Deposits should be placed in an interest-bearing account, and you are eligible for the interest minus any fair deductions (such as repairs, repainting, or unpaid rental).

The takeaway

Moving to South Africa can yield many positive lifestyle benefits, including more time outdoors, an abundance of sunshine, and gorgeous scenery around every corner.

However, it is imperative to have all your documentation in order and enough funds to secure a sizeable deposit prior to renting a property. Depending on the city that you are moving to, rental costs can vary considerably. It’s, therefore, a good idea to do some desktop research prior to arrival so that you can see what is on offer and make an informed decision based on location, salary expectations, deposit, and travel costs.

Gleaning the skills and expertise of a reputable real estate agent can make the process easier, and they can assure that all the correct documentation is processed.

As an expat in South Africa, property rental is all about having your documents in order and the funds to secure a reasonable deposit. Working with a reputable agency can streamline the process and make it a little easier to navigate, especially if you are finding a rental home prior to arrival.