Article by Gary Wood
My wife and I have had a nightmare dealing with our new landlord here in town. It’s a not-uncommon story, but I thought that this teachable moment would be worthwhile to share with others in the expat community, who are undoubtedly going through similar situations. Below I am going to break down what things you need to consider whilst renting an apartment out here in China.
1. Don’t take what the landlord says at face value
OK, so both my wife and I were extremely busy in our own lives whilst recently looking for an apartment to rent. I work at least 45 hours a week and, to top it off, I was also studying my university course for four to five hours each evening. My wife was 8-9 months pregnant and both of us were completely exhausted and burnt out. By the time we came to our fifth apartment viewing of the day we liked the apartment and we loved the area. We were just too busy and tired to explore every single device and item they had in the apartment, so when the landlady (who I will say seemed very nice) told us everything worked, we just went for it and signed the contract. Bad idea!
2. Check the amenities!
This is very important, because if they break down it is considered your fault and will very likely come out of your deposit! So, remember that the landlord told us that all of the amenities in the apartment worked so really there should be no problem, right? Wrong! To begin with the air conditioning in all the rooms was blowing hot air, which is the last thing you want in the Xi’an summer. When we rang the landlady up and explained the situation, she said “Oh yeah, I know that!”
What?! Seriously! She explained before we signed the contract that everything was working fine and now admits she knew the air conditioning wasn’t working. She, at first, refused to get the air conditioning repaired and claimed it would be no big deal, but eventually she did cave in after a few minutes and said she would have it fixed.
The second thing we had problems with was the washing machine. After moving in and deciding to use the washing machine, we were shocked to discover that the clothes were dirtier after the machine had spun them. The clothes would come out covered in all of this horrible white fibre and the machine itself was making a tremendous amount of noise and would shake uncontrollably. My wife addressed this with the landlady and, again, she decided to make excuses in relation to the washing machine and claim that it was fine. This went on for a few weeks but eventually the landlady agreed that the washing machine wasn’t working properly and agreed to get us a new one, but only after arguing and pointing out that she had clearly lied to us about the amenities not working properly.
The third and final thing was the case of the fridge freezer. The seal on the freezer door was damaged, which meant that the freezer couldn’t freeze items properly, as warm air would get in to the freezer and create havoc with our food. What was also alarming is that the sides of the fridge freezer were red hot and, as anyone who has dealt with fridge freezers can tell you, the sides of a fridge should be warm as it is switched on, but not red hot! So two things there: the freezer wasn’t working, and the freezer sides were also scorching and it seemed to us that a fire could start at any moment.
The landlord (Husband of the VERY honest woman we had been dealing with) said that he wouldn’t replace the freezer and that we had to continue using it, as it was “fine.” Eventually my wife and I gave up on this one and bought a fridge freezer ourselves (which I will say is doing an amazing job). However, the landlord had not removed the old washing machine or the old fridge from the apartment and these huge items were just standing in our apartment living room. My wife kindly asked if the landlord could remove them. The landlord refused and said that they had to stay there, as he had nowhere to store them. Store them?! They were old and broken anyway, why not just throw them in the trash or sell them as scrap? My wife tried to plead with the landlord on this and again he refused and threatened me and my wife to be out of the apartment by the end of the month, even though we had paid six months’ rent up front and we wouldn’t be getting our deposit back. Bear in mind it was almost the end of the month by this point and my wife was still recovering in a care centre from giving birth so how the hell in our situation were we to find a suitable apartment in that short space of time? The landlord knew this as well! Eventually we were able to compromise and the estate agent has allowed us to keep the BROKEN refrigerator and BROKEN washing machine in the back room of his office.
3. Check how old the amenities are!
The truth is, all of the amenities in this apartment are fairly old anyway and have probably been there since the apartment was first built around ten years ago. With this is mind, it is no wonder that the air con, washing machine and fridge freezer were working poorly. Another concern we have is the hot water boiler. This machine looks like it is ready to break at any minute and it makes a terrible noise every time we run a hot water tap. Locals have since told me that landlords will often do this as a strategy. They will fill the apartment with old amenities and then hopefully, while someone is renting it out, the amenities will break and then they can buy new ones from the deposit that the tenant has given them by claiming it was the tenants’ fault.
I can boil this whole story down into three pieces of advice:
Check that things work.
Check them physically and thoroughly.
Do not take what the landlord says at face value, no matter how nice they seem!
The truth is that the above tips seem like common sense, but the other landlord we had spoken to the previous day had a rotten attitude so we had decided to give her a wide berth. Obviously after dealing with that woman this new landlady seemed like an angel sent from above. How wrong we were! Overall, the landlady who we are with now broke her contract as they said that things were working fine only for us to find out after signing that she was lying. I have spoken to people about this, as we signed a legal document, but the only advice I have received is to not bother taking it further as no legal team or police force will show any interest what so ever. Follow my top tips from above and take everything the landlord tells you with a pinch of salt, or else you might find yourself in my situation.
Gary has lived in Xi’an for over two years and works in a local high school. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org