Haven’t found your apartment yet? Check out our previous guide to finding an apartment in Nanjing.
You have found the perfect flat and can’t wait to move in? Before you charge ahead, just be aware that there are a number of issues to look out for before signing your name on that contract.
You have your budget and the flat you have found is just pushing the limit of the money you are willing or able to pay.
BEWARE of extra costs. The pure rent is not the only fee you will be facing with relation to your accommodation. The most obvious additional financial burden are the bills. Unless stated explicitly in the ad, the bills are not included. This means you have to budget around ¥100 - ¥200 (as of 2015) extra per month for gas, electricity, water and internet, depending on the size of your flat and the time of year, as use of air conditioning is going to increase your bill.
More importantly, in China renting any property without fail means encountering the ominous building management fee. This fee is charged by the owners of the entire building, not the individual landlord, for security guards, cleaners and any maintenance costs of keeping the overall building in shape. For this, expect another ¥100 - ¥200 a month depending on how classy a joint you are moving into. To be safe, ask for the exact fee in advance, so you can calculate that into your budget.
Then of course there is your deposit. In most cases, you can pretty much expect that you won’t be seeing that again. Unless your landlord/lady is one of the few people with a conscience, they will usually find a reason to not return parts or all your deposit. While this is frustrating, you often end up thinking that it is not worth the hassle fighting it out with them over a few hundred kuai.
The good news is that whatever price your potential landlord or agent is offering, you will very likely be able to push it down a bit, especially as an expat. Due to Chinese stereotyping, many landlords prefer most expats over locals because they perceive foreigners to be cleaner, especially where cooking is concerned. Cooking with oil and the results is a frequent headache for local flat owners. Remember this advantage and don’t be shy to give it a try, after all they can’t do any worse than say no to your suggested price.
Signing the Contract
After adding it all up, the flat suits your budget and you want to snatch it up right away. However, in China you need to be particularly careful when renting a flat in terms of ownership.
BEWARE of tricksters renting out illegally. Friends of mine thought they had rented a flat from its owner and lived there for a few months, only to find one day the actual owner of the flat standing on their doorstep demanding to know who they were and why they were living in his flat. As it turns out the landlord’s tenant had secretly rented out the flat he was renting, no doubt making some extra money in the process. Needless to say, my friends were told to move out that same day and suddenly found themselves homeless and, having paid half a year’s rent in one go, facing a considerable financial loss.
To make sure this does not happen to you, there are two documents your potential landlord needs to provide when you want to rent a flat from him; the property ownership certificate 房地产权证，often shortened to 房产证, and his ID card 身份证. In order to go register at the police office later, you will also need copies of both of these documents. If you are going via an agency such as 5i5j我爱我家 or Homelink 链家地产, it is their duty to have the landlord bring these documents to the signing, one of the services offered in exchange for their fee, which is usually half a month’s rent.
As this is the stage where it all gets very legal and you should check the contract you are signing in case it might get you into trouble later. Particularly pay attention to the duration of the contract, you probably don’t want to sign a contract lasting longer than a year, as in China many landlords won’t give you an early release. Also, it is customary to pay 6 months’ rent in one go (sometimes 3 months are possible, but usually no less), so you might end up losing money if you decide to leave the flat early. The best option is really to bring a Chinese friend with you (or alternatively an experienced expat with good Chinese), who can help you check the contract for any hidden clauses.
Extending the Contract
Congratulations, you have spent a year in your flat, you are getting all comfy and want to extend your contract!
BEWARE of rent increase. Because most rent contracts are only signed for the duration of a year, it is an easy feat for the landlord to renegotiate the rent once your time is up and you want to continue your relationship. Now, this can be rather frustrating because if the flat was already pushing the limit of your budget a year prior, it is likely an increase will push you over the limit. In order to make sure you are not taken for a fool, search for the name of your building on real estate agents’ website. Due to the formulaic building style it is not unlikely you will find your exact flat just a level above or under you for rent, so you know realistically what you should be paying, which puts you in a good bargaining position, as you can simply threaten to rent the flat below at a cheaper price.
One final point: DON'T FORGET TO REGISTER WITH POLICE WITHIN 24 HOURS OF MOVING INTO THE PROPERTY. Check out our previous guide on registering with the police in Nanjing.
While it is very rare for authorities to actually check that you registered on time, do try and take care of this administrative fuss as soon as possible. If you leave it and are ever caught, there are heavy fines to pay. Especially during international events it is not uncommon for authorities to do spot checks on flats they know to be inhabited by foreigners, and while this is not an enjoyable experience being, able to procure the right documentation will at least save you from any trouble.
We hope this guide helps alleviate some of your worries when it comes to renting a flat and wish you a happy tenant experience in China!