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Chinese Property - Rent
How to Rent a House in China (November 2008)

This page contains specific information for Expats wishing to rent a property in China

Topics on this page include:

Renting Accommodation
Renting Business Property

Renting Accommodation

This is fairly easy and straight forward, both for a private dwelling, office, or small warehouse (Garage)


Foreigners can rent an apartment quite easily. All you really need is your passport and some money. It is best to have a friend help you check the legal contract, but these are normally a standard contract as issued by the Estate Agent. Lets start with renting an apartment:

Where to Look
The main way is via an estate agent (Realtor), and these are everywhere! Many smaller ones work on a commission basis for larger offices, but prices do work out about the same, and sometimes cheaper.

The majority of apartments shown in most agents windows are to buy, and the smaller section is generally rental properties. Inside they have many other properties also. Window prices are given as Cost per square Metre of purchase, and Cost per month for rental. Even though these are all in Chinese, you will soon work out which is which. They also show the total area of the premises, including any balconies, gardens or patio's. Any other figures are usually in this order: Number of reception rooms, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms

These are normally apartments in tall skyscrapers, or can be Western style houses in condominiums the Chinese refer to as 'Gardens'. You will pay for the location. Otherwise, new is always best in China, so brand new apartments will command a far higher price than an older property with paneling and in-build wardrobes that is twice as large! Look for yourself and make your own mind up.

Tip: Sometimes Chinese only want to sell you what they consider to be 'Best', and you may have to fight them quite hard in order to view older and larger properties

The contract will be entirely in Chinese characters, but figures will be normal digits - which means you can follow the basics easily. Numbers will indicate your address, length of lease (From and Till), and the cost per month. I have personally had several of these during my time in China. We advise you to have a Chinese friend help you with this, although it is not imperative.

Tip: Check to see if the apartment also includes a personal garage or secure and dedicated parking space. You may not think this important at the time, but years later it could become a source of concern. Normally an apartment in a large complex will have a dedicated parking space in the main car park beneath the building. If it has a single garage, this is normally rented out separately

A standard contract runs for a year, but other terms are available by mutual agreement. Short leases are usually more expensive, but 6-months and over are ok. Most property owners are private individuals, although some companies do exist in large cities

Terms are normally 2-months deposit and a month in advance (= 3-months rent up front). The deposit is returned at the end of the contract, less any damage charges or similar = normally full return of deposit. The estate agent will also take a percentage based commission, which will be in the region of half a months rent. There are not normally any other rental charges. You will likely have irregular contact with the owner, and renewing the rental is usually discussed a month or two in advance.

The contract is for the apartment, and does not normally include regular household bills. These you normally pay yourself, although some owners may prefer to do this for you, and you simply pay them a single extra lump sum each month. These bills are in the owners name, not yours, therefore services are ready for immediate use.

Tip: Do take time to check and record the meters and any outstanding balance regarding building charges, or you will be liable to pay anything not paid before you moved in (Not usually a problem at all)

Regular bills include: Electricity (Expensive!), Gas, Water, Building Maintenance charges - these include: Security, building Maintenance, TV / Cable monthly service charge

Tip 1: As well as one set of door keys, you should also receive electronic cards for accessing the main building door (If applicable). These are limited to a set number for each apartment, normally about 5 off. You should ensure you have enough of these

Tip 2: Chinese door keys come in many diverse designs, and are specific to Chinese locks only. You may wish to have several more cut, and this is simple and done from any local key cutter. Please only get one set first and see if they work. If they do not 50-50%, then you can keep going back to the vendor until a set is made that does work - or simply cut your losses and try another vendor until you find somebody reliable

Other Bills: These are things you are personally responsible for installing and maintaining contracts. These could include: Landline telephone (fax), Internet connection (A separate thing), appliance or furniture rental, anything else you add yourself.

Cable TV: You may also have to pay for the cable receiver set (About Y600 one-off payment) although this will be in the owners name normally. However, the basic channel reception is covered as part of your building maintenance charges. If you want to upgrade the package, you need to find the right cable service contractor (There will be about 10 of these for each Cable supplier). You can usually add channels separately, or as a package (Cheaper). Channels will all be in Cable Supplier notation, not channel provider notation, and in Chinese. Given you master doing this, then you will receive the extra channels on the channel provider network you are using. This is tied to both your address and cable card. Remember this if you move home! Updated channel packages last for one year, and are usually not automatically renewed

Contract Renewal
Owners will usually try to put the rent up a little each time, and I left one of my apartments because the owner wanted to hike the rent by 25% for the next year. Having just ignored our previous verbal agreement to fix the the last price hike for two years duration I was not impressed and left. The apartment has since stood empty for 14 months, which is fitting I think!

This appears to have been a one-off experience (And the owner was from Hong Kong), as subsequent lets from local Cantonese people have proved to be very sincere and honourable

What is included:
Most apartments come fully furnished, or furnished with most major items at least. Empty apartments are more difficult to find, and tend to be very small. in size.

This is what you should get:
Beds with Chinese mattresses (Made from concrete) in each bedroom, 3-piece suite, TV, Cable receiver, Dining Table and chairs, Coffee table, Fridge- freezer, Microwave, steriliser unit, cooking hob. Older apartments have built-in wardrobes, whilst newer ones tend to have standing racks and wardrobes. You should have enough wardrobes provided. Other items vary, and a separate list will be given you detailing what the owner has provided.

Please note: The owner may not always provide a TV set, fridge or washing machine etc. They will probably offer to get these for you at an additional monthly charge, say Y200. Consider carefully, as you can also rent these locally (As the owner is actually doing), or you may choose to buy your own - which over the longer term works out far cheaper, it depends how many years you plan to live in China really?

What is not included:
You only get the air-con units you can see. If you want more you have to buy these yourself. The same goes for gas showers, as China is now upgrading to ones with exhaust fumes extractors by law. This means that instead of one shower in each bathroom, Landlords only install one in the main suite. If you add extra showers, then having a mains one can be difficult to take with you, so consider opting for a gas bottle powered version instead. Building Maintenance will fit it for you

Renting Business Premises

Business premises are also fairly easy for Foreigners to rent, and an office or storage facility is very similar to renting a private dwelling. There are only some practical differences and contractual details you should be aware of, otherwise it is very similar to the section above:

1. You will normally be expected to pay 6-months deposit + 1-month in advance
2. You will need someone to check the contract for you, and watch-out for: What is included vs what happens when you upgrade? Sounds simple - well it isn't! If you have a garage type unit (Most local shops), and it is bare inside, you will want to add extra things like Glass outer doors, sink, toilet etc. Now, unless your contract specifically states that you are renting a bare space, or specifies exactly what is included, you may have problems later

Let's say you add a set of glass doors, upgrade the existing toilet to a Western sit-on version, and add a sink and kitchenette. It works fine. Then when you come to leave, these will belong to the Landlord unless you specify in the contract at outset that any improvements belong to you!

Also note that business contracts can be terminated at short notice, and again, unless you insist on a specific penalty clause in your favour at the beginning of the contract, you loose! Normally a Landlord can call the contract over and you out of the premises at the end of the month you are currently in - which could be a couple of days only!

These things do not normally happen, but I know of instances where they have. Be warned and be careful!

Related Pages: Buying Property
This information is as supplied by the Chinese Embassy in UK, as dated 20th June 2008, and/or other reliable sources. Please check this information yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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