Check (in) with the Police – Part 2

Matt | Finding an Apartment,Police | Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Last week, a friend of mine followed my advice, to check in with the police as soon as they moved into a new apartment, and got burned.

In China, the police want to know where all foreigners (all people?) are living. So when you move, or if a friend comes to visit, you need to report in with the police. If you moved into a new apartment, you’ll need to bring your lease agreement, usually your landlord or maybe just her ID (she has to agree to sign you in with the police – something to confirm before you sign a contract), and your visa. With all this documentation, the police will sign you in, photocopy your information you’ll receive a


Which is a little white slip of paper that says you’re legally allowed to be living where you are.

Unfortunately for my friend, Moe, he was in a short-term living arrangement. He took over someone else’s lease. Moe’s previous tenants did NOT tell their landlord. Moe paid the new tenants the rent, the new tenants left and Moe tried to do the right thing and went to check in with the police. But when the landlord found out she said, “No Deal!”

It turns out that in most standard Chinese rental contracts the renters are NOT allowed to sublet the apartment legally. It happens, but this makes it difficult to check in with the police.

As Moe’s previous tenants actually did their landlord a favour by finding a new renter, the only thing they forgot to do was to inform the landlord they were leaving and that they found someone else to take over the place.

A better approach would probably have been for the old tenants to inform the landlord they were leaving, introduce Moe to the landlord, have the old contract torn up and have a new contract signed between Moe and the landlord. Unfortunately, this may have resulted in the old tenants losing a few months rent (as it’s paid 3 months in advance), but if you have a good landlord and a good relationship with her this probably will not be a problem.

So sometimes in China, the rules or procedures aren’t so clear cut. If you are legally in your apartment, then check in with the police. If you aren’t, try to get into a legal living situation, with the lease in your name, and then go check in with the police.

Finding an apartment in China

Matt | Finding an Apartment | Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Here are some good rules that hopefully can help you find a good apartment in China.

Actually, when I started looking for a place last September, I went about it all wrong. I went straight to the rental agencies as there are dozens around every residential complex. Using my limited Chinese I’d ask them about my price range and their availability. We’d start a bit of a negotiation in their office and they would find something above my budget. Then we’d go look a one place. Usually it would be terrible. Then I’d thank them and leave. Having wasted about 3-4 hours to see one overpriced, crappy apartment.

One day, while I was waiting for my agent to see one overpriced, crappy apartment, I was lucky to have met a nice young American girl. I asked her about the place and if she new if there was a maintanence/rental office (“wu ye”) nearby. She said there wasn’t, but after talking with her for a while I got a lot of great tips on finding a place.

  1. Work with a few rental agents before you find the best one for you (lots of them are cheats trying to separate you from your money). Eventually you’ll find one or two who actually like their jobs renting out places and who actually are working as rental agents.
  2. Tell the agent what you want and ALWAYS tell them about 80% of the price you are willing to pay. Because they will ALWAYS show you a place that is about 125% what you say your ceiling price is. As the agent gets a % of whatever they rent the apartment for. Usually the rental agency gets 1 month, paid from the landlord for new apartments, and the agent gets 10% paid from the rental company. You shouldn’t pay the agent to find you a newer apartment in Beijing. This could be different in different areas. Ask your friends about this, especially ones who have been around for a while. If you aren’t paying the agent, then they aren’t looking out for your best interest. Remember, tell the the price you want to pay, actually only 80%, and you’ll probably end up paying the price you want for the place you want. They will hum and hah and complain that they can’t find you anything, but they will.
  3. Tell the agent what you want and that you don’t have time. A one bedroom, fully furnished (as most places in China are furnished), with a new washing machine and in a new building. Tell them you will have 2 hours to see apartments and that you want to see 5-6 places that best fit your requirements. This great tip, saved me heaps of time. As you’ll likely go through a lot of awful places to find a great apartment.
  4. When you find an area you like, especially if it’s a newer building, look in the windows for phone numbers. These are people who want to rent out their place directly. These usually will be cheaper as they don’t need to pay the agency fees. But you’ll need to be able to speak some Chinese for this or to have a Chinese friend help you.
  5. When you are seeing the apartments, try to get the landlord’s contact number. This way you can call them afterwards and see if you can get a better deal if they can fire their agent. This one is slightly immoral as the agent did do their job. But it could save you some money.
  6. If possible, don’t use an agent at all. Most buildings will have a maintenance/ rental office called a “wu ye”. If you can try to find this and talk to them directly. This way you won’t have to negotiate too hard with the landlords or deal with unscrupulous agents. But again you’ll need to be able to speak a little Chinese.

These little tips helped me find a nice place in the heart of the central business district (CBD) that is only a 20 minute walk to my work.

Before all these tips, of course you’ll need to do a bit of research on your own. Walking around the areas you like will help you understand the market asking prices in that area. Bring a pen and paper to note this down as you’ll likely see lots of apartments. You’ll also meet lots of agents. But using the tips above hopefully your apartment search will be easier than mine was and that you’ll find the place you want, at the price you want, when you want it. Good luck.

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