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.
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, drive you around and handle all those sorts of logistics. It is a fantastic service which in my mind is worth it for the time saving alone.
If you do decide to look for yourself, bear in mind that online inventories are often out of date. Extremely frustrating and a waste of time, but it is what it is.
Apartments – things to look for
Some things to look for when considering an apartment, other than the obvious things such as size, proximity to work, child friendliness that led you to look at the apartment in the first place etc:
· 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 of unit fire stairs
o Building central alarm / sprinkler system
o Location / availability of communal fire hose reels and extinguisher(s)
· Safe water scheme rating - http://www.wsd.gov.hk/en/customer_services_and_water_bills/application_for_licence_certificate/quality_water_recognition_scheme_for_buildings/index.html
· 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?
· 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?
· Storage space in kitchen
· Shape of apartment – able to fit furniture?
· 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?
· 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
· Is the apartment closed in? 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?
Securing the apartment
Laws governing residential tenancy agreements
The laws governing residential tenancy agreements are far looser than they are in other countries. There are no standard legal agreements, 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. Some things to watch out for.
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:
· 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.
· 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
· 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.
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
· 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
to be continued…