Beating the system: renting in Beijing

How to avoid a rental nightmare, from Beijing's own experts

You can save yourself a lot of hassle down the line by asking the right questions when you sign a lease. Gregory Desbuquois of Scout Real Estate tells us how to avoid a rental nightmare.

The contract Can you get the Mandarin version of the contract translated by an independent party?
When using a local agency or agent, you should always remember that they’re going to try and make you sign as quickly as possible. But if you don’t read Mandarin, you should always get someone independent to check the Chinese part of the contract first. Otherwise, by the time that you find out there’s a problem, the agent you dealt with might have moved on and suddenly it’s no one’s responsibility. I’ve heard of intentional mistakes in contracts where the English translation is biased towards the renter, whereas the Chinese version favours the landlord. But only the Chinese version will matter in court.

Rent increases Is there an early termination clause?
Always try to negotiate a longer contract than you intend on staying for, with the option of an early termination clause. For example: if you plan on staying for one year, bargain for a two-year lease with a two-month early termination clause that only kicks in after a year. It’s like a ‘fake’ two-year contract. Of course, landlords aren’t stupid; if they really want to increase the rent, they’ll simply break the contract. However the early termination clause means a lot of hassle and agents’ fees, and the time the property will be off the market often don’t make it worth the effort. If the landlord doesn’t want to sign for more than one year, it usually signals that they will look to increase the rent upon renewal.

The agent Who pays the agency fee: me or the landlord?
It depends on the budget. The general rule is that for any rent up to 6,000RMB per month the renter pays the agent’s fee; anything over that sum and it’s usually the responsibility of the landlord to pay up. If the rent is over or around 6,000RMB and you’re still paying, bring this fee up in the negotiation. The fee is generally one month’s rent, although this can often be negotiated down to anything from around two-thirds to half the price with the agent.

The decoration Is there an allowance for furniture?
Furniture is a big issue. If the apartment is unfurnished or not adequately furnished, don’t be afraid to try to bargain a sum to decorate it. When negotiating for an unfurnished or basic flat, factor in the cost of a couple of thousand kuaiover each year of the lease for decoration. Usually the landlord will agree; they’re looking to rent to foreigners because they pay more, so having a flat that appeals to laowai is of benefit. If you let them furnish it themselves, they will more often than not opt for the cheapest option or something which might not be to your taste, so take the initiative.

The upkeep Who takes care of the repairs and maintenance?
For apartments, the responsibility for maintenance is usually split between the building management and the landlord. Generally the landlord takes care of the appliances, while the management looks after the fixtures (air-con, water pipes, heating etc). Check this is the case and ask the landlord what agreements they already have in place with the building’s management regarding maintenance. If there is anything important not covered, make sure that the landlord will compensate. In any case, insert a clause that the contract can be broken if the landlord doesn’t uphold their side of the maintenance.

The bills Who takes responsibility for the utilities?
The standard package is that heating and management is included within the rent (with the exception of houses with electric heating; in this case it’s extra). What aren’t included are landline telephone fees, although the landlord should be responsible for installation of the landline; if this isn’t already set up, make sure it’s included. You can try to include internet set-up in the contract too. Water, electricity, gas etc are always the responsibility of the renter.

The deposit Can I just pay just one month’s deposit?
Very often you’ll get the choice between paying three months’ rent and a month’s worth of deposit upfront, or paying just one month’s rent at a time and fronting up two months’ deposit. If possible, always go for the three-month option. It’s a very large sum upfront, but providing you never have to leave at a moment’s notice, you stand to lose less on the deposit if the landlord is reluctant or slow to return it. Also, ensure that there is a clause whereby should you leave having given the appropriate (say, two months’) notice, then any outstanding rent paid should be returned to you, together with the deposit.

Scout Real Estate can be contacted on 8596 8873/72 or Visit
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Tue 04 Jun
My landlord is now asking for garbage collection fees