Problems in a perfect Beijing apartment


Dealing with high prices, sketchy rental agents, flaky landlords, and annoying neighbors can make renting an apartment in Beijing a painful ordeal. Here is one horror story:

Just Perfect

by Ai Shi / Sanlian Life Week

When I moved into a new apartment I had just rented, I felt a daily sense of unease: "Who am I to have received such a windfall?" My new place wasn't really new - a four-year-old tower with a wide view. The nightlife at the foot of the building was jumping, and at the turn in the road not far off were the subway and light rail. A bit farther away was the terminus for a number of public buses as well as a coach station. Two bedrooms and a living room, and there was a magnificent sofa as soon as you walked in the door. The sofa caught my eye, and the moment I entered I knew what I wanted. Homes in this area are generally high-priced, but I was able to bargain it down from 3000 to 2500 yuan. An American friend of mine heard my description and said, this is just perfect.

But after I moved in I quickly discovered the first imperfection: an unusual number of roaches. After killing them for several days, I had the agent's repairman Lao Cao make a service call. We talked long enough that I ventured to explain my hardship in enduring the roach infestation. Lao Cao said that no one had lived in the apartment for three months. Uneasy, I made my first call to the landlord. After hearing my name, the landlord said, "You've been cheated. The agents are frauds. We've already launched a suit against them." "Then what about me?" "Just wait." The landlord's chilly voice mixed with the aroma of crayfish haunted me from then on.

Lao Cao made another service call. I maneuvered to ask, why was broadband installed in every room - had there been a high-tech individual living here? Lao Cao shook his head. I suddenly remembered the cosmetics the previous occupants had forgotten in a drawer. "Then it would have been a young woman?" Lao Cao nodded. I continued to ask until Lao Cao said, "You seem to me to be a good person, so I'll tell you. The tenants before you were bad people." "What? They weren't prostitutes, were they?" Lao Cao nodded.

So all of a sudden, every time I went out into the hall, the people around all looked at me askance. Sometimes people veered away, and I could feel eyes on my back following me.

My friends heard that I had moved to a wonderful new place and came calling at my door. I felt uneasy, since my friends, both male and female, fell under that same gaze. My only response was to silently wait for things to change. One week later, change came. At 9 in the morning on a Monday there was suddenly a knock at my door. Through the peephole I saw three people wearing police uniforms who stood outside saying they wanted to check my ID. I knew what they really wanted to check, so I quickly opened the door even though I was wearing my pajamas.

"You've just moved. How many people live here? Let's see your ID." I've been around, so I politely and calmly asked to see their identification. After we had checked each other's IDs, the discussion started. I set the topic by saying that I had never had police come over when I rented places in the past. They replied, "It's the run-up to the 2008 Olympics." I forced a smile at this logic. I asked, "How are you checking?" "We'll make scheduled inspections, and we'll check out the people you have contact with."

Evidently there was no difference in identity between me and the former tenants. Anger rose, and I started to bite back: "I'm legally renting this apartment and I have all the documentation. What is it that you're looking for?" They responded that they were working according to regulations, and would I please cooperate. A few more rounds, and we eventually hit an impasse. The police said, "We will check out the people you have contact with." "But those are my personal matters. Please don't harass me!" "How is that harassment? We are checking according to the rules, once a month, or maybe even once a week." "I want you to come and check every day!" Finally, I pushed hard against the door and it slammed with a bang.

Afterward, the unpleasantness gradually dissipated. I guess my righteousness had dispelled the suspicions of the police. Half a month later, there was peace between police and citizen. I started to enjoy the comforts of my new home, and often soaked in the panorama of the setting sun.

One day the chilly voice of the landlord sounded outside my door, and I got my first look at the landlord's face. I knew that all landlords like tenants like me who live cleanly and simply. We chatted pleasantly, and the landlord even brought up the situation with the prostitutes. The broadband apparently was for the prostitutes to conduct their business online. Since many different kinds of people were always coming and going, public security had cast a net and had caught the entire whorehouse in one stroke.

After sending off the landlord, I thought that this "explanation" would be leaked in a month at the earliest. It turned out that it was already known the following day. Around 10am on Sunday, there was another knock at the door, this time with a whole band of people, men and women, in addition to the landlord. My guard was immediately thrown up. From outside the door they said that the landlord had come to see the apartment. I refused to open the door, since the landlord had just come on Saturday. They persisted, and I didn't relent. Later their tone became more impatient, and they went from knocking on the door to beating it. I explained my position, that I had signed with an agency, so aside from the agency I would not open the door for anyone. Their identities then changed a few times, from relatives of the landlord to people with the agency, and finally to prospective buyers.

They were outside making noise, and I was inside determined not to open the door. During that time I happened to get calls from friends with the PSB and the procurate. I immediately asked for their informed opinion, and was severely disappointed: the first said, hesitantly, "If the landlord comes you really ought to open the door." But the second one said, "Read me your contract." It ended up that I spent a half hour explaining that I should only have contact with the agency, and not with the landlord.

A third call came in, no longer from any friend but rather the people making the fuss outside. The person on the phone implied that his influence or money should be enough to scare me, and he threatened, "The agency has already disappeared, and your contract is void. We're here to buy this apartment - if you open up now, then it's all OK, but if you don't, then we'll find a locksmith this afternoon to have you thrown out. Then it'll be too late for crying, even!" I said, "Go ahead and try."

I talked big, but I was really worried that these people were only about money and not reason, so I gave a call to the former objects of my anger, the police. The police dropped their earlier suspicions and told me that if things actually involved bodily harm, then I should call them. They also told me to call the agency. The result was unexpected: the agency hadn't disappeared, everyone was there, and with an air of exasperation said that they'd work things out.

That afternoon and the following several days were quiet, and I once again began to make plans to enjoy the comforts of my home. A week later the chilly voice of the landlord once again sounded from the end of the phone line, but this time it said just one sentence: "Have a talk with my lawyer." I have a suspicion that the lawyer was the one who yelled that they were going to break down the door that day, since he shouted, "The agency has been cancelled. The court did not process our complaint, so the contract has been unilaterally dissolved. You must move out before the deadline, or else we will find a locksmith and come in directly." A whole line of threats and counter threats, after which I once again turned to the police for help. The police realized the severity of the situation and said that they would look up the landlord themselves. There was an immediate effect: it's been three days and the landlord hasn't harassed me once.

Letters from that American friend continue to ask, "What's it like living in a perfect house?"

Translated from "Just Perfect" (完美不过如此) by Ai Shi (艾氏) in Sanlian Life Week (三联生活周刊), issue 35 (18 September, 2006), page 124. Used with permission.

There are currently 10 Comments for Problems in a perfect Beijing apartment.

Comments on Problems in a perfect Beijing apartment

This has cast a wonderful shine over all the shitty school-supplied apartments I've had to live in here in China.

It should be "三联生活周刊"!

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks, corrected.]

When is a contract not a contract?

When you're in China :(

I got kicked out of about 5 appartments in BJ before settling down, 2 times even by a western NGO.
Until i found a proper spot with a decent agency and a landlord I met before renting.
I ll never again rent a place in China without meeting both the agent and the landlord in the same place, it has since avoided all kinds of problems.

What line of reasoning leads one to hand over thousands of yuan in deposits and rent to a third party without meeting and seeing the landlord? I decided against renting an apartment because the landlord wouldn't show the deed and tax statements for the house.

That said, why go through an agency anyway? There are hundreds of sights listing apartments for rent; save yourself and the landlord half a month's rent and look online. Owners are also more likely to come down in price if they don't have to pay an agent's fee.

Anyway, that is real life experience in BJ, although for u, it give u bad impression of BJ

sometime, I just guess why u foreigner take so many risk to live in strange city, even I will not risk so many without familiaring with enviroment

anyway, wish u enjoy real BJ life
-----BJ married guy
BTW,your country love MV is good, your mandarin is good

I guess "Wo ting bu dong" wouldn't help here; but some general life skills would! He wouldn't have rented the apartment in the first place..

Sometimes we just forget the basic rules applying to any country: meeting the landlord + being sure he is the landlord + review a contract. China is just like any other fast developping country so one should be carefull enough!!!

Anyway, good article!

Uh, I hope I won´t meet those problems as I am searching for a new apartment now. Thanks for the article, very interesting.

Your situation is quite a nightmare and I do feel sorry that you have experience something like this.

But, I must honestly tell you, renting a 2 bedroom for 2500rmb/month is a pretty good deal... OR NOT!
You were pretty much asking for it.

I'm an expat and have stayed in Beijing for almost 4 years. I realised with issues like housing, there's really no good deals. You pay for what your get. Cheap rentals = lower class or uneducated neighbors.

If you don't want the headache, pay more for housing. If you don't have the money, find roommates to share a nice 2/3 bedroom apartment in a good Neighborhood.
If you don't like to share with others, then it's all up to you what you're willing to stand.

Paymore more or roommates or a peace of mind.

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