Most young Westerners relish the independence of renting their own apartment. It’s a rite of passage that's usually enjoyable and without risk. However, in China the renting experience can be very different. For example, what principles separate the West and the East in terms of acceptable land-lording? Most Westerners will find that the Eastern way of renting is not only confusing, but rife with hassles.
The best way to stay safe is to prepare in advance and keep some basic guidelines in mind. I’ve prepared some tips for new renters in China, concerning contracts, maintenance, deposits, privacy and registration. Read on!
Photo: See-ming Lee
1) The housing contract
Is a housing contract the same in every country? Of course not. One look at a Chinese contract might get your head spinning, especially if you do not read Chinese. Some folks question the legality of these contracts, as the wording can be questionable. If possible, ask your landlord to provide an translation. If not it’s good to have specific points in mind nailed down before you sign. Check the dates and prices, including when the deposit should be returned, on which day rent should be paid every month, and what the penalties are if a deadline is missed. While this might seem fairly obvious, it’s a good way of showing the real estate agency and/or landlord you're not to be messed with.
It’s also good to take pictures of the documents so they can't be changed at a later date. Finally, remember that contracts in China are still just pieces of paper, rather than legally binding documents. There’s no shortage of horror stories about foreigners not having their deposits returned and having no one to turn to.
Maintenance problems are likely to occur when you rent. Your first instinct will be to call the landlord. However, a few phone calls and many minutes later, you might be given a very round-about answer. Maybe a week later, something gets fixed.
There are also times when nothing is fixed. Even if your landlord comes over, don’t expect miracles. Many landlords have no idea about practical things such as fixing the pumbling and are reluctant to call in professionals. If so and it's a big problem, stand your ground and say you won't pay rent until it's fixed. For the small things, do internet searches, i.e. Wikihow. Learning how to fix something by yourself will not only save you time but give you a valuable life skill, hurrah!.
A rental deposit in China can be anything from 1-6 months’ rent up front, which is actually quite a frightening thing if you are not sure about your deposit being returned. As a basic rule, you should not be putting down more than six months’ rent up front, and even that is steep. Most landlords will return your deposit in full, but of course there are always the horror stories. Unfortunately there is no way to ensure your deposit will be returned to you. This is generally decided by the landlord’s character alone.
4) Privacy and security
Privacy and security are two things we take for granted in the West. Our homes are our homes, whether rented or otherwise. Landlords do not have the right to enter without permission or unless certain circumstances arise. However, you might find your Chinese landlord will often just show up at your home, inventing vague excuses such as checking on the washing machine or looking at the pipes. Furthermore, security is an issue when you know that your landlord can burst in at any minute. This is a problem that can only really be navigated through gut insinct. If you don't like the person renting the house, don't do business with them.
Another thing to look out for is registration. Landlords must have their homes registered by the government to allow foreigners to rent. Because this costs money, some will lie about the registration. If you want to avoid hassle with the government, you should insist on seeing the registration document (fapiao). However, be prepared to pay for it (usually around 10% of a month's rent) yourself as the landlord will naurally be reluctant.
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Keywords: renting in China renting horror stories Renting an Apartment in China
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21 Comments Add your comment
If you are on your own and don't mind living with other people sub-letting from a Chinese person who has a spare room is often a great idea. They will usually have formed a decent relationship with the landlord and you can pay them a smaller deposit. They will also deal with maintenance issues for you so you can avoid the language barrier. If you rent direct from an estate agent or landlord they WILL try to rip you off for being a foreigner, your only defence against this is researching the going rate in the area you want to rent in. I avoid using a letting agent altogether, they are scumbags whichever country you are in but in China they take it to another level. Keep the deposit as small as possible, everyone will tell you in Shenzhen that 2 months deposit and a months rent is standard but I have lived here best part of five years and have always paid a months rent as a deposit, that way you will lose the minimum if problems arise. It can often be negotiated especially if they want to rent it out quickly.
Jun 18, 2014 02:06 Report Abuse
Most of the time when people have shitty landlords it is their own doing. Before you sign a contract inspect the landlord as well as the house. Are they a cheap ass? Uncomfortable renting to a foreigner? Trying to get wierd rules in the contract? Then your asking for trouble and deserve what happens. I have been here for 7 years and never had an issue. Because i choose a few houses i like and then choose landlords i like. Choose a rich guy( not a girl, they are always cheap) some guy that wants alot of face. Acts rich, acts like he doesnt care about anything. Then 8 months down the road and your travelling and wanna pay your rent a few weeks late, hell be like whatever. Buy a new lock. Simple common sense things. My landlord doesnt give a fuck about anything. If something is broken i dont call him untill after ive fixed it and i keep the fapiao and deduct it from the rent. He doesnt have a key. The only time ive seen him was when he was renting the place out next door and we had a beer.
Jun 18, 2014 09:00 Report Abuse
I have had a bad experience renting in Shenzhen. As someone said above do not have anything to do with letting agencies! Total pond life. I have lost my deposit because they are completely unreasonable. They tried to charge me for any repairs/maintenance which in the west would be covered by the land lord. Bring a 'neutral' Chinese person with you to negotiate the rent, foreigners almost always pay more. A friend told me my current apartment was worth 3800 we were charged 4400. Be careful using Chinese assistant estate agents English speakers who they often work in tandem with the letting agents/land lords against your interest- they will fleece you. Good Luck!
Jun 19, 2014 18:36 Report Abuse
I don't think it's rocket science renting an apartment in China compared to in other countries. The basics are the same. Make sure you establish a good relationship with your landlord and then he/she will cut you some slack if you need it later on. Pay your rent on time, don't call the landlord about every little thing that you can fix yourself or pay some dude a 10'er to help you with. That's pretty much it really. I have a really nice landlord right now. Doesn't speak a word of English but gladly helps me with anything I need, if she can. I pay my rent on time and doesn't bother her unless it's absolutely necessary.
Jun 19, 2014 21:13 Report Abuse
One aspect of renting in China is that in many situations the landlord will rent the apartment "as is" and the cleanup is yours to do. Sometimes a university will rent apartments belonging to staff and these are usually fully furnished. One rule meant to keep women from renting ground level suites is an old rule still on the books that says foreigners must rent above the 6th floor only. I think this came from the days when only foreigners could purchase scarce appliances from the "Friendship Stores" so break ins were common to steal these sought after goods. Most cities now have one office usually in a chain box store where you can pay utility bills like water, gas and electricity but you will have to pay telephone in the designated server's office. Computer fees are charged yearly with an initial installation fee (1,000 rmb) + yearly fee. Replacements like switches on table lamps, bulbs, batteries for door bells or stove ignition (flint types of spark generators are not replaceable) are best done on your own. Double door handle systems are easily replaced 40 rmb and the simple locks are even cheaper. Hardware and construction materials are usually found in a construction zone located on the outer edges of cities where everything the handyman could want can be found in the maze of stores there. I built my own bookshelves and stained them with a Dupont product. Buying electrical extensions with safety mechanisms are worth it because current fluctuates often in China and can crash your computer. Do NOT let water leaks in your apartment go on because the mold will start and medication for lung problems can last for a year. Chinese tolerate mold but foreigners are affected by it immediately and the soft paint in walls is a favorite breeding ground; i.e. any black spots are mold colonies and when they get to the white stage, the spores are like anthrax and will make you dizzy right away. If you get dizzy or headaches in an apartment you are considering renting, it is mold-infested so get out! If you are a smoker in these small houses, smoke damage will accumulate on tile, windows, and drapes which you will have to clean. If there isn't any special place for your washing machine, buy wheels at a hardware store and insert them in the holes in the frame and make it portable ( even three wheels will suffice because a height device on one edge may not be removable). Find out where your breaker box is located and flip the switch upwards. Phone overseas to Canada and the USA with China Mobile by dialing 125500-01. Leave no FOOD CRUMBS and your cockroaches will disappear - if you insist on feeding them, they will come.
Jun 20, 2014 10:03 Report Abuse
Greetings all, just had one bad experience. I was over charged for rent.. And paid a Months deposit total of 6000 rmb. Ive gave notice and moved.. But they now are chasing me for another months deposit.. As I only paid one. I feel that the agent and landlord or trying to scam me and now have sent threatening messages, regarding going to the police about not paying 2months deposit.. Greedy Chinese men.. That's all I can say.. Plus I'm sure it's just paper here with words on?!.
Feb 09, 2015 10:52 Report Abuse
Oh the horror I once rented a apartment in less any a week they decided they wanted to sell the apartment I have people come look at the apartment 3 or 4 times every day for 2months. they would call me at work asking if they could come to my house, I'd say no but when I got home There would be any agent and some clients in my apartment drinking tea and another time client wanted to play PS3 with me wft and another time. I almost hit a agent with a baseball bat because they bought a client who was extremely interested in buying the apartment 11:50pm I was sleeping in my bedroom I hear the front door and people trying to whisper and walk around the apartment I was waited in my bedroom with a baseball bat when they turned on the light in my bedroom I'm like oh it's you (apartment agent) they left very quickly after that. After that I changed the stupid locks on the door and ignored every phone from the land lord.
Oct 12, 2015 00:27 Report Abuse
The most notorious website for foreigners getting scammed is SZparty Especially beware of an agent called TANNY MOK who i believe works for an agency called SZ Sweet Home! She has ripped off numerous foreigners in Shenzhen, and can get very aggressive and has even threatened people who i know when they have asked for their deposit to be returned. BEWARE
Oct 12, 2015 11:16 Report Abuse
My landlord wanted 6 months in advance or otherwise he said he would increase the monthly rent by 300 RMB if I wanted to pay monthly. Eventually I got him down to pay just two months and a deposit (and two months rent in advance thereafter) at the original rate. It's called determination and persistence :)
Oct 22, 2015 00:15 Report Abuse
wow. I didn't have any problems rent an apartment in Sichuan, Meishan. I have no idea what you people did. But I got the impression it was easier than in Canada. I have heard lots of horror stories about landlords on both sides of the Ocean. I did pay all 12 months rent up front. Every single problem I ran into was solved within 48 hours. I agree that a person must be careful. But I think the landlords in Canada are worse than the ones in China. You get what you ask for: in any country.
Jul 28, 2017 10:01 Report Abuse
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