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Renting in China: Signing a contract

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Once you’ve found a place you like and assessed your potential landlord, you need to sign a contract to seal the deal. Here are a few things you need to know before you do. 


The nature of Chinese contracts

Firstly, you should know that in China contracts are often viewed as non-binding, loose agreements. Some landlords are extremely unscrupulous, and will not hesitate to turf you out with only a few days’ notice because they’ve decided to sell the apartment or want to move their son or daughter in. Others will cite any excuse to avoid returning your deposit, and others still will make themselves hard to reach during the term of your lease, causing endless frustration if you need repairs done or encounter other problems. Of course, when rent is to be paid, they will always be there on time!


What to look out for in contracts

Despite those issues, you should make sure your contract at least offers you some guarantee of your rights and clearly states the limits of your obligations. In the event of a dispute arising, you will find it useful to at least be able to point out that the landlord is in breach of the contract (in some cases, this may trigger some reaction on the landlord’s conscience).

Note that you can try taking complaints to the police, building management or any real estate agent who was involved in leasing the apartment, but don’t expect them to be too helpful.

So, what should you look out for? Contracts are usually boilerplate, featuring a standard set of terms and conditions. A standard Chinese contract looks like this while an English-language one looks like thisRemember that in the case of a dispute, the Chinese version of the contract will be the one that’s used in court, so have a bilingual friend look over the English and Chinese contracts and make sure they’re both the same.

Check through your own contract to make sure the following provisions are dealt with:

  • Clearly stated start date and end date.
  • How much notice is each party required to give in the event that the contract needs to be cancelled. This is very important in China, as landlords have become known for breaking contracts at a moment’s notice. If this happens, fighting them for compensation can still be hard even if you can show them to have acted in contravention of your contract, but still it’s useful to be able to prove they’re in the wrong.
  • Equal penalties for both parties. Make sure that the landlord will be penalized in the same way for kicking you out as you will be for breaking the lease without providing proper notice.
  • Lease extension. Check provisions for extending your lease. How long in advance do you need to inform the landlord if you wish to extend? Can you renew directly with him, or do you need to go through an agent again?
  • Ending the lease. If you decide not to renew your lease at the end of the year, check whether (or how early) you will be expected to make the apartment available for show to potential tenants.
  • Selling the apartment. Check that the lease includes a provision for what happens if the landlord decides to sell the apartment while you are still living in it. You should not be required to show your apartment to potential buyers.
  • Contents of apartment. Check the furniture/appliances/other items listed in the lease. Make sure that’s what listed there is actually in the apartment.
  • Rent payment. Verify how often, when, and how the rent should be paid, and the penalty for late payment.
  • Landlord’s contact details. It’s best if you get a direct contact for the landlord – avoid having a real estate agent act as a middleman between you and the landlord if possible.
  • Local police station. Ask for address or directions to the local paichusuo (police station), so you can register your residence as soon as you move in – you are legally obliged to do this.


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