Screengrab: https://www.myrentr.co.za/

It's every landlord’s nightmare: come the first of the month, the tenants haven’t paid their dues (or short pay), thereby side-stepping reminders and, once you finally reach them, they’re full of creative excuses. So you’re left at their mercy, to do the right thing when they feel like it, because threats of penalties and even eviction don’t startle them. Some will simply squat and bear the embarrassment and discomfort. After all, evictions take a while and a free roof is well on the house.

There are always two sides to a story: for every terrible tenant, there’s a loathsome landlord who shirks his maintenance responsibilities, invades privacy, takes liberties, tramples on tenant rights and then fails to pay back the deposit. For tenants, crunch time usually comes when you need urgent work done or you’re about to move out but have a hunch that your deposit won’t be refunded so you withhold rent for the final month and brace yourself for the inevitable fallout.

And then there’s the agent - the smooth-talker who just wants to clinch the deal and walk away. Much like the agent who told a reader from Sea Point that they could pay on the second, set up the debit order for that date but then penalised them R350 for a day’s late payment; plus, he was promised parking for his own private use, only for the complex to threaten him with towing his car away.

Managing agents take some pressure off the landlord but, if the tenant is not incentivised to do the right thing, they don’t do much more than send threatening mails and letters of demand.

But landlord-tenant relationships don’t need to be fraught. To help decent private landlords find decent tenants (and vice versa), and maintain happy relationships, a new property app has been launched on the market to challenge the traditional top-down business approach. It’s called MyRentr, lauded as a way to help private landlords manage their properties better. And for tenants to have a better rental experience.

Because the carrot always triumphs over the stick. It’s a behavioural intervention and a psychological principle: punishment usually doesn’t work. Incentivising and rewarding individuals is often more effective at bringing about behaviour change. And we know how effective those cash-back inducements are at keeping people from claiming from their insurers to get their bonuses.

The penny dropped for Ross Fitzcharles, 31-year-old chief executive of MyRentr, after his parents moved away from Joburg and let their property. Their tenant paid his rent on time and assured them he was taking good care of things. Only he wasn’t. It cost them over R30 000 to fix. So they asked Fitzcharles to help manage the property.

Fitzcharles, who has an Honour’s in risk management, worked for Momentum Investments before joining Deloitte’s strategy and innovation for banking and insurance department. Managing rentals was not his forte so he started doing research. As a strategist, he realised technology would be the answer to solving the problem. Estate agents were too expensive and many landlords believed they could do as good a job, if not better. Only thing is, they don’t. Which is why he developed the MyRentr app to help private landlords.

“I wanted to develop a product that could help my folks never find themselves in such a position again. Something that could make renting out their property easier, while at the same time protecting them from financial losses.”

One of the biggest sticking points is the crucial property inspection. Currently, MyRentr offers virtual property inspections (via pictures), rental guarantee and tenant vetting.

Their first feature, the Virtual Property Inspection, allows the landlord to do a virtual walk-through of the property without having to be physically present. The inspection can be tailored to target specific concerns. The tenant takes pictures on the app during the inspection and it pops up on the landlord’s phone in real time. The images are time and date-stamped, too, so landlords can be assured they haven’t been manipulated. The tenant then submits the pictures and the landlord rates and reviews the inspection.

Tenants could also be required to do mid-way inspections, so the landlord is comfortable that the garden, for instance, is not being torn up by dogs, or that the carpets are kept in a clean, hygienic condition.

The presumption, though, is that the landlord is au fait with what a “good” inspection looks like. They might not be educated in the purpose of a thorough snag list, be under the illusion their property is in fine shape or that the pictures don’t reflect the actual state of affairs. Still, it’s early days and the tech’s being refined.

The rental guarantee costs 6.5% of the contract (about half that charged by other managing agents) which involves listing your property, co-ordinating viewings, tenant screenings, drafting lease agreements, inspections via the app and giving the rental guarantee. If things get messy, they’ll assist the landlord with the eviction process through strategic partnerships, as well as pay the legal costs.

Then there’s the MyRentr Rewards, a guaranteed annual 20% cash-back reward, on top of the tenants’ deposit, should they take care of the property and pay rent on time.

“We’ve seen improved behaviour from tenants, who used to pay on or after the first, now suddenly paying their rent five to seven days before month-end so that they don’t lose out on the bonus,” he says.

“It’s a win-win for both landlords and tenants. Our rewards link back to our app because all inspections are rated and these ratings form part of the tenant scoring for their cash-back rewards. The rewards, then, form part of our MyRentr guarantee that is specifically designed to give landlords peace of mind.

“Not only do we collect and guarantee their rent, but we help them through the renting journey by providing them with the right tools to manage their properties efficiently.

“If a tenant defaults, we have the landlord covered for four months in terms of rental guarantee, we guide the eviction process and pay the legal fees.”

MyRentr provides landlords with the necessary services to manage their own properties, such as listing, tenant screening, signing lease agreements, etc. They hold deposits (kept in an audited trust account) and receive rentals.

MyRentr is backed by industry experts: “Our advisers are chief executives Leon Vermaak (Santam Insurance from 1999-2002 and of the Telesure Group from 2003-2015), and Justinus Adriaanse (Private Property 2000-2012).

“We’re underwritten by Bryte Insurance (the old Zurich, which rebranded) and powered by Geneva Risk Management Solutions. Our strategic legal partner is SSLR Inc.”

It’s a sector ready for disruption. Private landlords need all the help they can get and it’s good to know that tenants are rewarded for good behaviour. After all, in an ideal world, signing a lease shouldn’t be the beginning of a bad business relationship.

Visit www.myrentr.co.za

It’s free in the AppStore or from the PlayStore.

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @askgeorgie

The Star