A Beginner’s Guide to Renting an Apartment in China

A Beginner’s Guide to Renting an Apartment in China
Oct 06, 2020 By Lewis Schwinn , eChinacities.com

If there’s one thing that a global pandemic teaches you, it’s the importance of choosing the right place to live. However, finding the right place can be difficult for many new expatriates moving to China for the first time. How much can you bargain? How picky should you be? What’s that strange smell? All of these questions and more will be answered in this beginners guide to renting an apartment in China.

A Beginner’s Guide to Renting an Apartment in China 
Source: Maria Ziegler 

Beware the old

Before you even set foot in any apartment, you need to look at the building it’s in. Most modern apartment complexes in China’s big cities are high rises with 30 floors or more, while some older places may be be only about 5-15 floors. Older complexes often have nice gardens with a lot of local flavor, but upkeep is not typically a priority for most landlords and housing associations. As a result, old places almost always have issues with black mold, leaky ceilings, and cockroaches.

And the too new

You might be thinking you can go to a brand new apartment complex to avoid these problems. China’s economy is driven in part by its rapid construction of houses and infrastructure, so it’s fairly easy to find a brand-new apartment to move into. The only problem is… this will probably be too new. Many new places open before construction is finished or are located in areas with other ongoing construction work. This means you may well be dealing with noise 24/7 (even at night!) and possible living disruptions. Ideally, you want an apartment of medium age (5-10 years) to avoid all of these problems.

Be open to extra bedrooms

Apartments outside of China’s top tier cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen) are typically quite cheap and spacious, meaning you can get more bedrooms for your buck. Finding a one-bedroom apartment can even sometimes be quite tricky and you can often find better deals on bigger places, especially when you look at it by price per square meter. If you live on your own and don’t expect many visitors, get creative with your spare room. You could turn it into a hobby room, a gym, or, failing that, just a storage room as testament to your hoarding nature and lack of creativity.

Thoroughly scope out the hood

You’ll also want to look at what’s around your potential new abode. Ideally, you’ll want to be in walking distance of a Chinese wet market for its awesome fresh fruit and vegetables, but you’ll also want to be in range of a large Western-style supermarket for better meat and dairy options as well as some home comforts.

Another main focus should be your access to public transportation. Chinese cities are huge, so living within walking or cycling distance of a subway line makes life a whole lot easier. Good public transport access will put you in striking distance of work, play and onward travel, wherever your apartment actually is.

Pay close attention to what’s on the inside

Once you’ve picked a few areas or apartment complexes you like, you can start to narrow down the search. If you’re not shipping in your own furniture, you’ll be pleased to hear that the majority of rentals here come fully furnished, including beds, tables, couches, TVs, air conditioners, and washing machines. However, you may well have to purchase a plug-in oven, tumble dryer, and a dishwasher if you really can’t live without them.

It’s worth noting that many Chinese landlords and housing managers are not big on between-tenant maintenance or cleaning. You will likely be shown apartments exactly as they were left by the previous tenants, so expect grubby walls and dusty floors. These tenants might also have been motivated by the hope of having their security deposit returned to hide problems that the landlord probably didn’t extensively check. This means you should thoroughly check that everything works and is in tact. Video game rules should apply: If you see something odd or out of place, go and shake it to see what’s up.

Dont freak out about stinking drains

Unfortunately, smelly bathrooms are just a fact of life in China. Most plumbing systems, even in newly built apartments, come without u-bends, meaning the dank smell from the sewers will make its way into your bathroom from time to time. It’s not typically all the time (sometimes it seems worse after rain, sometimes there’s no discernible reason), but there’s not much your landlord can do about it anyway. Best advice, get a strong plug-in air freshener and don’t let a funky bathroom smell put you off your dream apartment.

Haggle like a hero

If there is something you don’t like about your apartment, something that needs to be fixed, items you’d like or add or remove, or walls you want painting, try negotiating for it as a condition for signing a lease. If what you want isn’t possible, you can then negotiate for lower rent, a longer/shorter lease, or a smaller deposit as compensation. The only limits are how persistent you are and how flexible your landlord is willing to be, which is why I recommend choosing a rich, lazy landlord if you can find one.

Either way, be prepare to throw down a large chunk of change

However good you are at haggling, expect to put forward a whole lot of cash when you first sign a lease in China. The easiest way to find an apartment here is through one of the many housing agencies, as direct sales by landlords are uncommon compared to the West. In some cities and circumstances, agent fees will be covered by the landlord, but in other circumstances you will have to foot this part of the bill. Make sure you know where you stand before you start looking.

In addition, Chinese convention usually requires advance payment of at least two months’ rent as well as a security deposit, which is usually another month’s rent. This is bad news for those who don’t have savings but great news for those who do. The more money you’re willing to put down upfront, the cheaper you’ll be able to get everything overall.

When renting an apartment in China, remember that there’s no place like home, even if it’s just your temporary home. Don’t rush, be smart, and make sure you get a fair deal.

Warning:The use of any news and articles published on eChinacities.com without written permission from eChinacities.com constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.

Keywords: Renting an Apartment in China beginner’s guide to renting an apartment in China


All comments are subject to moderation by eChinacities.com staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



Agents and agencies mostly send pictures of fake apartments just to get you to come

Nov 26, 2020 01:10 Report Abuse



I was lucky, I have lived in different cities of China in old and new buildings for ten years, the property owners have been very cooperative, They were helpful with cleanliness, security, electricity and water bills, and even when I required extra furniture or electrical appliances, Sometimes I would ask for a modification by adding a hot water line and they didn't mind

Oct 10, 2020 01:59 Report Abuse



Most ESL teaching job are being offered accomodation, that will definitely save a lot of trouble and money in the long term.

Oct 08, 2020 09:26 Report Abuse



An interesting take on the subject. I've always been lucky enough to live on campus in previous jobs.

Oct 08, 2020 03:08 Report Abuse



Brand new constructions will show poor workmanship after a while. Expect to see cracks in walls, outer halls and elevators not being cleaned, and light bulbs that never get changed. I have also heard that once the landlord has the lease in hand, do not expect any more effort from the landlord. You might even be expected to pay for repairs to things that break, such as refrigerators and AC units. Don't forget all the extras too. You are responsible for all living expenses, such as electric, cable, internet, water, and in some cases the actual HOA fees of the property. The lease is not going to be in English, and even if it is, the Chinese language of the lease is the only legally binding part of the contract. Make sure you have a Chinese friend to assist with translations. Personally, I will never rent an apartment in China on my own. Place the burden on the place of employment. Let them deal with scrupulous landlords, maintenance issues, and other headaches. Make it part of the contract. Even if they give you a stipend to live someplace, make them the ones legally responsible for the property. If they want your talents enough, they should agree.

Oct 07, 2020 13:25 Report Abuse



Most of the apartment is furnished if not fully furnished, all you need to do is buy whatever that the tenant doesn't provide.

Oct 07, 2020 09:30 Report Abuse



Very helpful post! Thanks!

Oct 07, 2020 00:33 Report Abuse



Very much interested to work with your company and I am going to be in the same here..

Oct 06, 2020 15:21 Report Abuse



Apartments in the second tiers cities can also be expensive. This is not quite true as stated above. Besides this, rich tenant may not necessarily flexible too.

Oct 06, 2020 09:00 Report Abuse