Don't get conned out of your cash. Here are 25 tips for signing a rental contract in Israel.
Hebrew: טיפים לפני חתימה על חוזה שכירות
It's all very exciting, you've been apartment hunting for weeks and finally you've found something suitable. Don't get ahead of yourself and jump to sign on the dotted line until you have checked these all important points.
Is there a standard rental contract?
There is no standard rental contract in Israel but various organizations including the Israel Bar Association, Tel Aviv Municipality, Levi-Yitzhak and Kehilot all have downloadable/printable examples (here is the one from Kehilot). On the other hand, your landlord may present you with a contract that he drew up with his lawyer. This contract will probably be in Hebrew. We do not recommend that you sign any contract until you've gone over it with a Hebrew speaking friend or a real-estate lawyer. A lawyer will charge you around half a month's rent to translate and go over the rental contract with you in detail. Remember that your well meaning, Hebrew speaking friend may miss some of the subtle nuances in the contract.
Main clauses in your rental contract
A typical rental contract may include some or all of the following points. Take care and ensure that all these matters have been clarified before you sign.
- Make sure you have a hard copy of the identity document (teudat zehut) and details of the landlord.
- Israelis living abroad might appoint a friend or relative, in Israel, to handle matters on their behalf. Make sure you have all details of all parties involved.
- Make sure that the person renting the property has the authority to do so. Ask them to show you that they are the legal owners of the property – you don't want to get caught up in a scam!
- The description of the property - a lounge/living room is defined as a room in Israel. So, a 4 roomed apartment in Israel means 3 bedrooms and a lounge. You may be offered a 3 1/2 roomed apartment. Half a room means that one of the bedrooms is very small and may only be big enough to squeeze a single bed and a small cuboard. It's common for a landlord to close off one of the bedrooms and store his personal possessions in the room. If you agree, make sure this is stipulated in the rental agreement and the rental price has been adjusted accordingly. Gardens, storerooms and parking spots must also be stipulated in the rental agreement.
- Protected tenants law clause – it was common years ago to rent a property for key-money and this is what this clause refers to. Mostly it is not relevant anymore.
- Ensure that the purpose of the rental is clearly stipulated: residential, commercial etc. If the property was used for some other purpose in the past, make sure it has residential and not commercial status. If you are self-employed and use the property as a home-office check with your accountant for possible tax deductions.
- Record your conversations with the landlord but make sure he agrees to that first.
- Check who is entitled to live in the apartment with you. Can you have a roommate, are there any restrictions regarding visitors, pets etc.?
- The duration of the lease, the notice period and any conditions that might apply.
- Is there an option to extend or shorten the lease? If you shorten the lease are there any penalties? Agree on the hand-over date and agree on a rate. The rate should be the same for both sides.
- Rent – how much, method of payment, frequency (monthly, quarterly etc.). Years ago it was common practice to quote the cost of the rental in US$, to be paid in accordance with the exchange rate, in shekels, on the date of the transaction. This is no longer acceptable and rent must be quoted in shekels.
- The state and condition of the property, who is liable for repairs and the type of repairs you are liable for. You are not responsible for leaks and burst pipes. You might be responsible for a blockage or some other repair that does not relate to reasonable wear-and-tear.
- Property contents and condition; furniture, appliances or other fixtures and fittings that come with the apartment. Ensure that the list is an integral part of the contract.
- Check plumbing, gas and electrical. You'd be surprised how many people neglect to flush all toilets, open all the taps, check that there is hot water, switch on all the lights, check that the gas balloons are in working order and that all appliances included in the contract, are in proper working order. Make sure all the windows open or slide properly - same with electric shutters
- Take meter readings – water and electricity and make sure to take photos of those readings.
- Is there insurance on the structure, its contents and third party?
- Cosmetic changes you might want to make – can you paint the walls, make holes to hang pictures or shelves etc.?
- Vad habayit (the house committee) – the tenant is only responsible for the regular monthly payments. You are not responsible for any out of the ordinary repairs or maintenance on the building for example if the building is repainted or the garden is landscaped. Make sure you give the money directly to the house committee and not to the landlord. Get a receipt.
- Are you liable for some type of guarantee? This could be in the form of a cash deposit, a bank guarantee or two guarantors. Guarantors must be able to prove that they have a job and an income.
- At what point and under what conditions will the guarantee be returned to the tenant? This is very important - landlords tend to come up with all kinds of reasons not to return part or all of the guarantee or deposit.
- Visits by the owner/landlord/agent must be coordinated and at regular hours. The same goes for the repairman especially if the landlord insists on being present when the plumber makes a call.
- If the property is sold during the course of the contract make sure you have the option to remain in the property until the end of the lease period. However, if you want to vacate the premises under these circumstances, you should have the option to do that too.
- NEVER, EVER, EVER pay your rent in cash directly to the landlord. Always pay your rent with a check or via bank transfer so that you have proof of payment.
- Demand a receipt.
- Take lots of photographs of the apartment before you move in and again when you move out, in case of a disagreement or dispute.