Huge effort, well done! Landlords though are killing the pig.
Huge effort, well done! Landlords though are killing the pig.
Revised version below
My thoughts on the topic of finding accommodation in HK, being someone who has just recently gone through the process. The below is not intended to be an exhaustive guide, but I hope it does help any newbies who are moving here. It is easy to forget the basics in the flurry of activity that is associated with moving countries, and having as much information as possible up front is critical. This is based on my experience only and leans towards apartments rather than houses as (a) that’s by experience and (b) most people are more likely to end up in an apartment than a house (or boat).
Feedback on factual inaccuracies is welcomed.
Finding an apartment
If your company isn’t already paying for it and you can afford it, I would highly recommend engaging a professional relocation company such as Brookfield or any of the other big names to help you find a residence and negotiate the lease. You provide your housing criteria, and they will arrange multiple inspections within a 2 – 3 hour window, arrange a car and driver and handle all those sorts of logistics. I was able to view 25 apartments in just over 5 hours. It is a fantastic service which in my mind is worth the price for the time saving alone. Of course, everyone’s tolerance for time wastage and hassle varies, so make your own decision.
If you do decide to undertake the search yourself, bear in mind that online inventories are often out of date. You are better off walking around the area you are interested in and visiting the real estate agents in person.
A note on apartment size: generally, apartments are advertised by gross square footage, including that apartment’s share of common space. The actual livable space may be 20 – 30% less depending on the common facilities of the building. This topic is covered in great detail all over the internet so I won’t elaborate here, but just bear this in mind to manage your expectations as to the size of the apartments you will be viewing.
Apartments – things to look for during viewing
Some things to look for when considering an apartment, other than the obvious things such as size, proximity to work, transport, shops, parks, child friendliness etc that led you to look at the apartment in the first place:
· Fire safety
o Building management policy on fires being lit in fire escape and corridors
o Location of kitchen- kitchen fire blocks exit?
o Smoke detectors?
o Secondary escape route from apartment and from building?
o Proximity to fire stairs
o Building central alarm / sprinkler system
o Location / availability of communal fire hose reels and extinguisher(s)
· Building Quality Water Recognition Scheme rating – is the building a member? For how long? http://www.wsd.gov.hk/en/customer_services_and_water_bills/application_for_licence_certificate/quality_water_recognition_scheme_for_buildings/index.html
· Does water come out of the taps clear when first turned on?
· Location of fuse box – accessible? Circuit breakers or old fashioned wire fuses?
· Type (effectiveness) of blinds
· Number of power circuits
· Number and location of power points
· Number and location of phone outlets
· Number and location of cable TV / internet outlets
· Hot water – tank vs. continuous. Temperature adjustable?
· If hot water is gas, ensure unit is fully sealed or externally vented
· Hot and cold water pressure
· Height adjustable shower head?
· Locks on windows?
· Locks on front door (deadlock?)
· Ceiling height
· Condition of A/C units (new?)
· Noise levels of A/C units
· Type of A/C unit – split system or window? If window, is digital temperature control available? Does the aircon have a drying mode? Is it reverse cycle? (i.e. heating as well)
· Type of kitchen stove (gas / electric / induction) – per your preference
· Unlikely… but does it have an oven?
· Storage space in kitchen and bathroom.
· Does the bathroom have an exhaust fan?
· Do you have a place to put basic things like a vacuum cleaner, mop, bucket and ironing board?
· Shape of apartment – able to fit furniture? Take measurements and compare to the measurements you make of your furniture before it went in the container (you did do that, right?)
· Garbage facilities – on your floor or a long walk away?
· Gas vs. electric cooking
· Bath or just shower?
· Built in robe space – sufficient?
· Kitchen exhaust – to outside or recirculation?
· Dryer (if included) – condenser or to atmosphere?
· Drainage speed for sinks etc (i.e. are they partially blocked already?)
· Check landlord doesn’t live in same building
· Quality of building security – do they actively screen entrants, or are they just trumped up door openers?
· Has the building been readied to receive digital TV signals?
· Which cable internet providers provide coverage to the building? If fibre optic, is it fiber to each unit, or just the building?
· Number of lifts in the building vs. the number of apartments – will you need to wait a long time to get out?
· Are the lifts airconditioned or at least ventilated?
· Are the building’s common spaces airconditioned?
· Security access cards – how many can you get for the building?
· Can you make copies of keys or are they protected?
· Are there locks on bedroom and bathroom doors?
· Cell phone reception – do you have workable reception on your chosen network when inside the premises?
· What is the building management’s policy with respect to the keeping of pets? Do they actively intervene to resolve issues with barking dogs etc, or are they more passive?
· Review financials of the building’s management – do they have enough in the fund to cover basic repairs? Even though you won’t be impacted directly, you don’t want things to be left unmaintained because the sinking fund is running low
· At the same time as you’re checking the above financials (usually posted on a notice board in the lobby), check whether your landlord has paid their management fees. If they’re a long way behind, it could mean trouble
· Is the apartment closed in by other buildings? Will you get natural light? At what time of day?
· Is the building well insulated – this will affect your heating and cooling bills
· How close to the elevators are you? Can you hear machine room noise? Do the elevators ”bing” loudly enough to hear in your apartment?
· Can you see any construction sites or clear pieces of land nearby that may cause noise issues?
· Is there a floor drain somewhere that you could use for your dehumidifier?
· Does the complex have pool / spa / sauna / games room / bowling alley / children’s play area / table tennis / function room / conference room / movie theatre / karaoke room etc? If they matter to you, do they meet your expectations?
Most le agreements in HK are for at least 14 months so you really do need to be very diligent in what you sign up for as you will be stuck with it for quite some time.
Securing the apartment
You will likely be asked to pay one month’s rent as a holding deposit until negotiations are complete. In my case, I signed a document which essentially signaled my intent, and that of the landlord, to enter in to a formal lease agreement. If either of us pulled out we’d have to pay two months’ rent as compensation to the other party. In hindsight this was risky in case the landlord and I couldn’t agree on the exact language in the formal lease agreement – caveat emptor.
I will leave others to comment on negotiating on price. I had no success for a number of reasons.
Laws governing residential tenancy agreements
The laws governing residential tenancy agreements are far looser than they are in other countries. There is no government-mandated standard legal agreement, so it is absolutely critical that you read the proposed agreements in detail, several times, and have someone else such as a professional relocation agent, solicitor or a colleague with experience in renting in Hong Kong review the agreement as well before you even think of signing.
Compared to other countries, the balance of power is far more heavily weighted in favour of the landlord than the tenant. There is no specialist residential tenancy arbitration process, other than going through small claims court which should be considered a last resort only.
Some things to watch out for in agreements, or try to get included:
· Mortgagee consent – your agent should undertake a land title search to advise whether the property is subject to a mortgage. Many mortgage agreements require that the landlord advise the bank that they have leased the property, however some landlords are reluctant to do so as the property is then viewed as an income-generating investment and the bank may look to increase the interest rate. Consequently, if the landlord defaults on their mortgage payment the bank may ask you to leave at very short notice. You can arrange some form of notional protection by asking that the landlord pay you 1 or 2 months’ rent plus returning the security deposit. In practice it’s probably not useful if the landlord is truly bankrupt.
· Most apartments should be repainted after each tenant leaves. This is possible in HK due to the low labour costs vs. other countries and the fact that standard leases are for 2 years, not 6 – 12 months as in other countries. If it isn’t already offered, try to get the landlord to repaint the premises before you move in
· Many apartments in HK come with appliances of some sort. You should ensure that the agreement is crystal clear that the landlord will maintain these appliances, and if they break, replace them with ones of equal or greater functionality, effectiveness and quality
· Be very clear in the agreement as to what the landlord is responsible for maintaining vs. the tenant. Again, there are no standards when compared to other countries, and a less than prudent tenant could find themselves being responsible for all manner of things such as plumbing, electrical circuits etc.
· Ensure lease has a ‘fair wear and tear’ provision
· Ensure reasonability clauses are inserted: e.g. tenant is responsible for all “reasonable” damages if they clog the drains through their negligence, as opposed to all damages. The tenant should be responsible for “reasonable and customary” costs rather than all costs.
· Similar to the above, make sure there is nothing silly in there. My lease said I must “comply with all rules and regulations in Hong Kong.” As written, technically I could have been evicted for jaywalking. Ensure these things are cleared up.
· Try to insert clause that the landlord is responsible for pest control and air conditioning
· Ask for the apartment to be cleaned before you move in. Many have been sitting vacant for some time between tenants and dust will have accumulated
· Given the lack of a reasonable, low cost dispute resolution service for residential tenancy agreements in HK, ensure that clauses such as “fair wear and tear”, “reasonable”, “careless” etc are prudently applied, as in practice it will be the landlord who will device whether you have met these terms, not an independent tribunal
· Ensure the contract is clear that the tenant is responsible only for insuring their contents, not the premises itself
· Ensure the contract is clear as to who pays for management fees, government rates etc
· Ensure the contract is clear about the tenant’s right of peaceful enjoyment to the premises. You don’t want the landlord being able to inspect the property at will without prior notice. Look to put language in regarding frequency of inspections, notice periods, acceptable hours and days etc
· Insert clause that any defects reported by the tenant within the first two weeks of the tenancy will be fixed within a two week period, if reasonable and practical
· Be very clear with the landlord and / or their agent how repairs should be requested – e.g. directly through the landlord, or the agent, or directly to the tradesperson. Discuss how emergency repairs should be handled.
· Look to negotiate at least one week’s free occupancy of the premises. This is quite normal in the HK market.
· Ensure the landlord agrees to transfer electricity, gas and water accounts to your name prior to the commencement of your lease
· Have the landlord attest that they are not aware of any significant building works being undertaken in the unit bloc either currently or planned.
· Ensure that the contract states that in the case of any discrepancy between the Chinese version and the English version, the English version should prevail.
· Beware, the 2 month security deposit is held by the landlord, not by an independent third party / escrow agent. This differs from many other countries and is something to bear in mind. Essentially you are at the mercy of the landlord as to whether you get your deposit back or not, or if they go bankrupt and disappear with it. If you’re renting a US$100k a month property in Pok Fu Lam, I’d suggest strongly arguing for the deposit to be held by a 3rd party
· Push to have electronic bank transfer as an acceptable payment method. You can schedule the payments for when you’re out of the country, unlike cheques.
· If it is important to you, see if you can get in the right to sub-let. This will mean that if you find the apartment doesn’t suit you, you can try to offload it to someone else.
To summarise, put yourself in the shoes of the most unscrupulous landlord you could imagine, and review the agreement from their perspective. What could you get away with not fixing? How can you minimise your costs as much as possible? Then, as prospective tenant, work to close move the agreement to your favour.
A checklist for the day of handover:
· Ensure you get all sets of keys for every lock; ideally you should get a spare set as well
· Ask whether the agent will be retaining a spare set of keys or if you’re on your own if you lock yourself out
· Take very detailed inventory of the appliances, fittings and furnishings in apartment
· Take detailed photos of every surface. Save multiple redundant copies on 3 different media types in two different locations (e.g. CD & USB & hard copy; one at home, one at work)
· Ensure you are given owner’s manuals for every appliance. Ensure you have remote controls for air conditioners
· Confirm the date by which the agency will deliver the stamped tenancy agreement to you
"· Ask whether the agent will be retaining a spare set of keys or if you’re on your own if you lock yourself out"
On this one I really would recommend that the first thing you do is change the lock cylinder and keep the one the locksmith takes out. That way you have control over your keys. Would you really want an agent (and who knows how many copies have been made while they had the apartment available for viewing) to have the key to your home after you move in? Or even the landlord?
I have done this with every apartment I've let in Hong Kong. Just replace the original cylinder when you leave.
Last edited by klan8456; 11-03-2013 at 10:34 AM.
Changing the locks is an eminently sensible idea that I never seem to get around to.
Agree 100% with the OP's "wear and tear" provision as well as the "maintenance" advice. HK landlords will squeezed you try and make you pay for any and all damage (even if weren't your fault) if you do not specify clearly what area of responsibility falls under the landlord, and which is for the tenant in the agreement.
To avoid costly and time-consuming disputes, general rule of thumb is to keep the apartment in the state where you found it prior to the start of the tenancy when your tenancy ends. Inspect the apartment and take photos of any damage (however minor) before you sign the tenancy agreement as proof that those damage already pre-existed prior to you renting the place.
Last edited by Watercooler; 11-03-2013 at 10:53 AM.
Just a quick message to say thanks so much for this! Really helpful for a first-timer to HK rentals like me
"Check landlord doesn't live in same building"
Please could someone help me understand why this is necessary?
Whilst that would be convenient for you as the tenant to ask the landlord to fix something when that's broken, on the other hand it would be kinda hard to refuse his request to "take a quick look" of his apartment whenever he sees fit (despite the clause spelled out in your lease) if you run into him in the morning every day.
And he won't be impressed by your artworks / photo frames hung onto the walls of his multi-million property.
It's a "double-edged sword" really, if you get too intimated with him.