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Assessing your new Chinese landlord

You might find a good apartment, but it could all go wrong if your landlord can’t be trusted or is only in it for the money. Here’s some advice on dealing with landlords.


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.


Warning signs

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        


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2 Responses to Assessing your new Chinese landlord

  • Dear Sir/Madam,

    I’m Nada Badawi, a journalism master’s student at Columbia University.
    I’m currently writing a story about China’s first-time homeowners, and I would appreciate it if you can get me in touch with young couples who are purchasing or have purchased a home recently. I can also talk to unmarried individuals and employees, but my focus is on young people purchasing homes anywhere in the country.
    I’m interested in hearing out their housing experience, price-wise and in general. What their relationship is like with the tenants? How are they affording the place? What were the procedures they had to go through when they decided on a place?

    So far, my story is not for publishing, but there is a chance it could be in the near future.

    Would greatly appreciate your help.
    Thank you.


    • Hi Nada. It might be quickest for you to look up expat forums about China and asking there, but if any of our readers want to answer questions through this chat page, they’re more than welcome to have a go!

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