Got a job in China and now looking for somewhere to live? It’s time to get acquainted with Chinese landlords. Each China landlord comes with his/her own set of ups and downs, and experiences of dealing with them will be vastly different. However, there are some standard hard-earned tips on how to negotiate with Chinese landlords. Let us be your guide.
It’s been less than 50 years since almost all the landlords in China (not so) mysteriously and (almost literally) disappeared under Mao Zedong’s deadly land reforms. But as time has passed, a new generation of landlords has slowly emerged from the apartment blocks and hutongs of urban China. This time, the term 房东 (fángdōng - landlord) can refer to anyone from the 大妈 (dàmā - the old Chinese lady with a temper next door), to the college-educated agent from for Airbnb-type companies such as as Ziroom 自如 or Homelink 链家.
Here are some top tips when renting in China:
There are good things that come with the premium price tag of renting from agencies such as Ziroom and Homelink. While the obligatory service fee usually sets you back at least RMB 4,000 per year, it will, at least in theory, make sure your apartment or room is kept in a mostly tolerable condition. Another good thing with some renting agencies is that the service fee includes monthly cleaning of the common areas of an apartment. The bad thing is that the price is more difficult to negotiate (although not impossible).
Don’t Expect English
As with most facets of the expat life in China, you can expect little to no English fluency from your landlord. Therefore prepare to brush up on some key rental-related phrases or have a Chinese friend help you when needed. Using WeChat to communicate in written form with your landlord can work quite well thanks to the built-in translation function in messages.
Always Take Photos
Water leaking from the tap? Window cracked in the bathroom? Fire raging in the staircase? Remember to point out any problems you spot before renting and take photos, sent to the landlord via WeChat, as proof. Also be sure to take a pic of your landlord’s ID. If nothing else, you’ll need it when you register at your local police station for your residence permit.
Use Sliding Scale Diplomacy
Once you’ve signed on the dotted line and are living in your new rented accommodation in China, you’re bound to come across some pesky problems. Whenever possible, fix the small stuff yourself. The less you bother your landlord, the more likely he/she will be to help you quickly with the more serious issues down the road.
When complaining to your landlord is absolutely necessary, always aim for the polite approach at first. You never know, you might be one of the lucky ones whose landlord just fixes things quickly when asked. It has been heard of.
If the gentle approach fails, however, apply more force. Keep going until you’re either deported from China or finally have that light bulb changed. Worst case scenario? Say you’ll move into a hotel until it’s fixed and take the money out of the upcoming rent. That usually sparks a landlord into action. As for agencies, such a threat may prompt them to give you another apartment until it’s fixed. If you rent via a third-party agency such as Ziroom, however, you can easily book a repairman for whatever trivial reason you can conjure up.
Monstrous deposits are commonplace in China, so don’t be surprised if and when you’re asked to pay one or two months’ rent upfront. Make sure the contract clearly states you’re getting it all back when you move out, assuming there’s no damage. If your contract is all in Chinese, insist they translate the important bits before you sign or have a Chinese friend check it over.
If you’re new in China, you'll also need to get used to the idea of paying your rent by season. This practice is called 押一付三 (yā yī fù sān), which means “one month deposit and three months’ rent”, usually paid up front before moving in. After that, most landlords will want you to pay your rent in quarterly chunks.
Fapiao Faux Pas
Many landlords won’t want to officially declare the rental and therefore pay the corresponding tax. If you ask for a 发票 (fāpiào - an invoice to show that the landlord has paid the tax), and the landlord refuses, this could give you some bargaining power over the rent as it technically puts you in a more vulnerable position. Trying this with an agency could potentially increase your rent, however, as they must endure a lot of extra paperwork. As such, it’s best avoided if not essential for your own invoicing purposes.
Do Your Part
Be a good tenant, or at least try to be. Paying your rent on time will obviously stand you in good stead, and don’t disregard completely adequate rules set up by the landlord. If he/she wants you to do something trivial, such hanging Spring Festival decorations on the front door, just do it and keep them happy. When they do something to help you, be sure to show your appreciation by sending thanks and smiley face emojis their way.
Also, be nice to your neighbors. They’re bound to be reporting back to your landlord, so the more you can ingratiate yourself to them the better. The easiest way to do this is simply to smile as much as possible and a utter a few polite Chinese phrases from time to time. Finally, remember that for better or worse, and whether you like it or not, you’re an ambassador for your country. Always be humble and treat your landlord with respect. You don’t want to give us all a bad name, now.
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Keywords: renting in China renting Chinese landlord China
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