Assessing your new Chinese landlord
The importance of a good landlord
It’s possible to find good landlords in China, who will help you out promptly with any repairs or other requests, and pay back your deposit when you move out. However, there are also many who just want to make as much money as they can while expending as little energy on the apartment as possible.
You might think that it doesn’t matter how or who your landlord is, since you’re not going to be meeting them too often, but you’d be wrong, for the following reasons:
- If something breaks or there is a problem (eg. water leak, cracks in walls/floor tiles, no hot water), you should inform your landlord as soon as you notice it. It’s their responsibility to help, and remember that you’re not “imposing” upon them. It’s their apartment, and they should want to know immediately if anything is wrong. It’s your responsibility to keep them informed. If you allow a minor problem to develop into a major one, your landlord may hold you liable for covering costs.
- When you sign your lease, you’ll need to pay your landlord a deposit. You want to get it back at the end of your lease.
- When you go to register your residence at the local police station (don’t try to avoid doing this – if you’re caught out, you may be made to regret it), the police may require you to bring your landlord in person. You’ll need your landlord to be available and cooperative.
Likely landlord problems
Common problems encountered with dodgy landlords are:
- The landlord asking you to move out at very short notice.
- The landlord announcing a rent increase, with immediate effect (essentially an ultimatum: pay, or move out at very short notice).
- Refusing to pay your deposit back at the end of your lease.
- Reluctance to deal with problems, or being unresponsive to your requests.
Questions to ask before you sign a contract
- Where does the landlord live? The extremes on either end are bad news. You might not want them living in the same building and coming around for a chat every other day. However, some landlords don’t even live in the same city as the apartments they rent, and this is an obvious red flag.
- Will they come to help you register with the police? If they say yes, this is obviously a positive sign. It shows they have nothing to hide. Some landlords will avoid the police because they may not be up to date on their housing taxes, or for some other reason. If the landlord insists that it’s not necessary for them to accompany you, it may not automatically be a bad sign – perhaps the landlord simply knows that the local police in that area do not require landlords to accompany tenants to be registered. However, you should insist that you want them to come. If they are very reluctant, this is a bad sign – if they cannot be bothered to accompany you for a routine procedure in return for you paying rent for 12 months, they don’t deserve your money.
- Can you make changes to the furniture or décor? Explain any ideas you have. If the landlord reacts negatively, and you are determined to have things your own way, you’d be better finding a more flexile landlord.
- Can you keep pets? What kind of pets? Again, if the landlord has a strong negative response, you’re better looking elsewhere. Don’t forget that a landlord may ask neighbors to keep an eye on what’s going on in their apartment.
- Where are all the utility meters? What should you do if there is a problem?
- If there is no furniture, will they provide and pay for furniture? (They should.) Will they allow you to have a say in choosing the furniture? (They may or may not.)
- How often should the rent be paid? The most common arrangement is for rent to be paid on a quarterly basis, but some landlords will ask for you to pay every six months. Some may ask you to pay every month. Paying for a full year (or more) in advance is rare, and not recommended. That’s a lot of money to be giving away in a single stroke.
- How should the rent be paid? Some landlords prefer to collect rent by coming to the apartment and collecting cash. Others prefer bank transfers. Neither makes much difference, though think about what’s convenient for you.
- What bills will the landlord take care of? Many landlords will handle central heating payments (of course, you’ll be covering the cost via your rent payments), and some will also be willing to take care of other bills for you. Most landlords will expect you to manage your gas, electricity and water bills yourself. In general, if the landlord is willing to take care of the admin, it means less hassle for you.
Of course, in most cases, you’ll have to trust your instincts with landlords when making a decision on where to live. Without a recommendation from a friend, you won’t be able to know too much about them, but you should look for warning signs.
Finally, check the contract carefully before you sign. Chinese rental contracts are usually 99 percent boilerplate, but you should check for details on the rent and deposit (amount and when this should be paid), the length of your tenancy, and responsibilities in the event of breach of contract. Make sure that the landlord at least has contractual obligations in case of breach of contract.
For more information on contracts, go here.
Finally, be aware that many landlords will find any excuse to hang on to their tenants’ deposit at the end of the lease. Give them as little reason to do so as possible. In the event of a dispute, make your case calmly and ask a friend to help you. However, you may have to accept that whatever the contract says, power in China usually lies with the landlord rather than the tenant.
Useful Chinese words and phrases
房东 fáng dōng landlord
合同 hé tong contract
租金 zū jīn rent
押金 yā jīn deposit
违约 wéi yuē break a contract
条款 tiáo kuǎn clause
房租 fáng zū rent
床 chuáng bed
衣柜 yī guì bureau
燃气灶 rán qì zào gas stove
书桌 shū zhuō desk
椅子 yǐ zi chair
电视 diàn shì television
空调 kōng tiáo air-condition
电话 diàn huà telephone
电热水器 diàn rè shuǐ qì electric water heater
冰箱 bīng xiāng refrigerator
微波炉 wēi bō lú microwave oven
物业费 wù yè fèi building management fee
取暖费 qǔ nuǎn fèi heating bill
有线电视 yǒu xiàn diàn shì cable TV
电费 diàn fèi electricity bill
水费 shuǐ fèi water bill
燃气费 rán qì fèi gas bill