Evil Beijing Landlords

My apartment lease expires on July 27, more than four months from now, so I was quite surprised to get the following note last week from the real estate agent who found me the place:

Dear Richard,

How are you doing?

The landlord keeps calling me these days, he wishes to increase the rental. As per the agreement signed last year is 18 months’ one, so I just simple told him that he does not have the right to increase the rental every time he mentioned the increase to me.

However, the landlord still insists on it, and would like to arrange a meeting with you to talk about the issue. It seems that if no agreement is reached, he may break the lease and pay the compensation to you.

Please let me know what your thoughts are.

Yours sincerely
[name]
Property consultant

The landlord “insists” on raising my rent. Well, we have a signed contract, just like the one I have with my company. Can I insist they raise my pay? Anyway, I basically told the agent to bugger off:

Dear Richard,

I fully understand your point.

As the Olympics is approaching, the rental at [name of my building] is increasing, the rental for the size of your apartment can be leased at RMB7,000-8,000/mth, which definitely tempts the landlord to increase the rental.

I really suggest that you and landlord meet with each other sometime late afternoon to further talk about it, it should be benefit.

Ah, so now we know what it’s all about. The landlord sees dollar signs (or RMB signs). He’s already making a fortune off of my bloated rent, but he could make even more. When I told her the landlord could take me to court, she replied with the landlord’s sob story.

Hi Richard,

I agree with your point of view and have tried to convince the landlord that he should follow the terms in the agreement.

To keep you updated, here is his response when I spoke to him today:
————————————————
-with the increasing interest of the loan, the current rental can not even cover the loans not tell benefit, it is high pressure for him;
-the inflation is very high here, hope you could understand it;
-would like to talk about lease renewal after solving the current issue.
————————————————

My response:

We have a signed contract that cannot be changed without the consent of both parties. I would prefer not to meet about this, thanks. We had an agreement that you helped arrange. I appreciate that, and expect our agreement to be kept, no matter how greedy the landlord might be.

This has nothing to do with inflation, by the way – he is greedy. The inflation rate in Beijing is at 8.5 percent, so an 8.5 percent increase might be fair, or even 10 percent, to help him to deal with it. But inflation affects you and me too – I do not ask for a raise because of inflation. That only creates more inflation.

The melodrama is unresolved. The greedy, fat landlord with his Patek Phillipe watch and Zegna suit – the poor guy who’s being so devastated by the rising price of pork and cooking oil – is beginning to understand I won’t budge. I also suspect that when July comes around he will double my rent, and I will need to find a new place. So I’m starting my search now and will move out as soon as i find another place. Any suggestions?

All landlords are evil. It’s just that here some of them wear their evil on their sleeve. To hell with the lot of them.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 31 Comments

Oh, man — moving in late July is going to suck. I can keep my eyes open for stuff around here if you want, though I’m not all that sure it’d be convenient for you.

Rents are going up all over the city. My landlord has told me that his neighbors told him he should raise the rent — thanks a fucking lot, neighbors! — but that he doesn’t know yet how much he’ll raise it by. I like my place enough that I would be willing to pay a couple hundred RMB more, but I suspect that he may try to jack me up, in which case I’ll just have to move.

March 13, 2008 @ 1:20 pm | Comment

Brendan, I’ll move out now if I can find a place. I know that looking in July will be sheer hell, and I doubt I’ll have a lot of time to go apartment shopping this summer. My search begins this weekend. My location of choice: Dongcheng, but I’m flexible. I just want to get out of the CBD. Any tips gratefully accepted.

March 13, 2008 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

Bob Dylan says it best:

Dear landlord
Please don’t put a price on my soul
My burden is heavy
My dreams are beyond control
When that steamboat whistle blows
I’m gonna give you all I got to give
And I do hope you receive it well
Depending on the way you feel that you live.

Dear landlord
Please heed these words that I speak
I know you’ve suffered much
But in this you are not so unique
All of us, at times we might work too hard
To have it too fast and too much
And anyone can fill his life up
With things he can see but he just cannot touch

March 13, 2008 @ 1:46 pm | Comment

And, Richard, you are an educated, articulate expatriate westerner who knows how to employ the rigour of the law in your favour.

Can you imagine what the situation must be for the many poorer Beijing residents who must be receiving similar “requests”? Many of them can look forward to the prospect of visits from highly persuasive goons if they try to stand up for their contractual rights.

Maybe the solution would be for the Beijing municipality to impose a rents freeze to cover the Olympics period.

March 13, 2008 @ 1:53 pm | Comment

From a practical point of view, it might be easier to arrange some compensation and get a new place now than to try to find a new place at the end of July.

March 13, 2008 @ 2:13 pm | Comment

I would honestly move as soon as possible. These types of things never end easily. I’ve had run-ins with landlords in Shanghai, and once one of these guys gets something on their mind, that’s the end. They try to sign as long of a lease as possible, but then strive throughout that period to actually make the stay as short as possible so they can rip off someone else.

March 13, 2008 @ 2:53 pm | Comment

Richard,

I agree with both Brendan and Boo.

We signed a one-year lease last March and in September made it an 18-month lease. Our landlady is a really sweet woman. She didn’t raise our rent even though I’m sure she can read a calendar as well as we can and knew we were signing through the critical month of August, 2008.

I’n the past I’ve dealt with the avarice and elastic approach to contractual obligations that characterizes too many landlords in this town, but (hopefully) this time we’ve found a winner. ‘

I also agree with HKSojourner that overall this is a situation in Beijing that is going to get worse before it gets better unless it is addressed soon.

As for where to live, well…we like it here in Dongcheng, away from the maddening crowds and yet in the heart of the city. There’s some nice options in your price range. My advice is when you do find a neighborhood you like, stop in at the local 我爱我家 and see what they’ve got in order to get a sense for the going rate in that area.

March 13, 2008 @ 2:53 pm | Comment

I’m living in a windowless closet for 800 rmb a month in Haidian district. I’m not too sure if that’s what you’re looking for though…

March 13, 2008 @ 3:25 pm | Comment

Yeah, Richard, I would either try to last beyond the Olympics or see if you can get some compensation and move now.

March 13, 2008 @ 5:08 pm | Comment

my sympathies richard. moving is always immensely stressful. like hksojourner says i wonder if this is impacting on other beijing residents?

March 13, 2008 @ 5:31 pm | Comment

You could demand a price large enough to make it worth your time to break the lease, which is what would need to happen anyway if you need to take your landlord to court.

March 13, 2008 @ 6:03 pm | Comment

my landlord just gave me a sob (song and dance) story about how he is getting divorced, and needs this apt back. i’m sure he just wants to find someone to pay more. his story was full of holes and smelled like old fish. he just called and said i had 30 days to get out. i wasn’t buying it. i think we both have to agree to that. after arguing for an hour, he made my girl friend cry, so i punched him out, and told him to get the hell out. i offered to pay the balance of the year (have been here 3 month, so ill pay the 9 months) if he does not contact me again.

i will find out in the next day or two if he wants to escalate this, or just leave me alone.

originally, i made the deal with his mother, and he sent her out of town, and called me with this news. i’m sure he is up to no good.

any advice for me?

March 13, 2008 @ 6:15 pm | Comment

I don’t know about Beijing, the situation does indeed sound bad, but my landlord in Taipei is the opposite of evil. Not only is he extremely reasonable, and let me pay half of my deposit two months later when I didn’t have the money right away. He also built me a bookchest when I asked for it before moving in, and when my computer broke, through no fault of his, he had a friend of his come over to fix it for me, for free. My landlord is the best.

March 13, 2008 @ 7:09 pm | Comment

Are you loving capitalism yet?

Well, don’t. Because it doesn’t love you back.

March 13, 2008 @ 7:36 pm | Comment

Hey Richard,

I share your pain… although I’m not quite at your stage yet. My lease wraps up on June 30, one month prior to the start of the games. I’m already fretting about what to do. I’ve contacted him and he said he wants to sign an extension, and made no reference to a rent increase. So I’m hopeful. Otherwise, I’m out there looking right now like you, because I don’t want to risk being homeless one month before the games with rents probably at their peak.

As an aside, I live in Xingfucun, just north of Gongti. It’s outside of the main CBD area, and I can walk or bike to everywhere I need to go. I used to live in Dawanglu before, and I think this neighborhood is far superior (even quiet at night).

Let me know how it goes… I wish you the best of luck.

Cam.

March 14, 2008 @ 12:01 am | Comment

Arrggh. I feel for you. My experiences with landlords in China weren’t very favorable either. They seem to think contracts are only binding for the foreigner and not for the owner.

Good luck finding another apartment!

March 14, 2008 @ 12:17 am | Comment

Just wondering — is anyone in China looking past the games? What are they going to do when life resumes normality one day after they extinguish that cauldron? (well, they do light it back up usually, for the paralympic games)

But still, you’ve got to wonder.

Olympics do not really change a city for long. Some things are changed forever, but those are basic infrastructure and buildings. But industry, jobs, people go back to normal very, very fast. I can only hope that crooks like your landlord will be sorry this time next year.

March 14, 2008 @ 12:54 am | Comment

@Richard;

The tone of your real estate chick’s letters suggest that she is on the side of the landlord. Why? She’ll get a commission for helping to move you out early and probably more for getting someone in at 8000 RMB/month.

I have to say it: Are you so happy to be living in China now? hehehe

March 14, 2008 @ 1:54 am | Comment

Damn…I wrote recently about my experiences with my landlord in Kunming but that was nothing compared to this. Bummer.

The only landlords I ever particularly liked were my parents :)

March 14, 2008 @ 3:26 am | Comment

Jinhan, it’s not a problem of capitalism. It is a problem of China’s illusory legal system. Contracts exist everywhere one looks, but they’re essentially worthless (particularly if one of the signees is foreigner- we all know how that would end).
Thus, rather than laying the blame on capitalism, realize that this a product of the legal system which those whom you claim to “not care about” were challenging and subsequently fell victim to.

March 14, 2008 @ 5:03 am | Comment

How about starting a communist party?

March 14, 2008 @ 8:14 am | Comment

“They seem to think contracts are only binding for the foreigner and not for the owner.”

It’s called the Chinese way.

“Just wondering — is anyone in China looking past the games?”

They usually don’t look past the next day. Considering they are starting to increase accommodation prices NOW, five months before the Olympic Games, it looks like they’ve become quite farsighted.

March 14, 2008 @ 8:24 am | Comment

Cam,

One of my favorite dive watering holes is in your neighborhood.

Mor,

I might suggest that it’s not the “Chinese way,” but it is a phenomenon quite common in China. (A distinction with a difference.) I’ve had landlords who faithfully abided by both the letter and spirit of the contract and I’ve had other ones who were a little more on the shady side.

Richard,

I also agree with Nanhe: be wary of your agent. Most are honest, but there are still quite a few willing to play both sides for their own benefit.

March 14, 2008 @ 8:39 am | Comment

“after arguing for an hour, he made my girl friend cry, so i punched him out, and told him to get the hell out.”

Great job Chris, but I could have sworn I saw him head butt your fist a few times. Thanks for drawing the line and sticking up for all foreigners. I highly recommend this course of action, certainly for all Canadians anyway.

Another reason what you did was right is that you punched him out in your home, which is all good as far as the cops go.

March 14, 2008 @ 9:06 am | Comment

@Jeremiah

You are right, I should have chosen my words a little more carefully. It is very common in China and a lot of Chinese people suffer from it (and a few laowai as well). Anyway, damn those landlords!

March 14, 2008 @ 11:07 am | Comment

Mor,

No worries. It’s something I’ve done too, but it’s a habit I’m also trying hard to break.

March 14, 2008 @ 11:20 am | Comment

When I was living in Shenzhen, my coworker from the Philippines had a horror story. When the time to renew the contract arrived, she and her landlord came to an agreement in the presence of the agent that our company was using. The agreement covered a modest rent increase to which my coworker agreed. A contract was signed.

Two days before the end of the old contract, the landlord came back and said that she had just “forgotten” about some extra taxes, and that she would have to raise the rent by a few hundred RMB per month extra. The agent told my coworker that there was nothing she could do because the government still hadn’t put some stamp on the contract. Furthermore, the agent did not have a signed copy. For some reason, she had given all of the copies to the landlord.

An ABC woman in our office had to negotiate on my coworker’s behalf because the agent would not. In the end, my coworker decided not to pay the increase and to move since she could easily find something for the old price in the same neighborhood anyways. Unfortunately, she only had a day and a half to find an apartment AND move.

She left the place extra dirty out of thanks.

The problem, as others have mentioned, is the lack of willingness on the part of the landlord to honour the conditions of the contract she signed. Mixed with this was the unprofessional nature of the agent (What kind of idiot agent can’t produce a copy of a contract?). Both situations are allowed to exist because of murky rules (Has any of us ever REALLY had confidence that the rules the agents tell us are the exact rules on the books or that the rules in the contracts haven’t been doctored?) and lax enforcement of the rules.

March 14, 2008 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

I had a similar problem in Shanghai recently. We were originally in XuHui discrict but moved out because the cost of the place was too high and we were not there so often.

We moved to Changning district and got a nice place for half the price, but 1 year later the new metro line extension was finished which was within 10 minutes walk of the new place, so they wanted to put the rent up 50%. At least they had the decency to wait until the contract expired which was not so bad.

Still decided to move out anyway as 50% was a little too much to stomach.

March 14, 2008 @ 4:15 pm | Comment

From the US State Department Website:

Business disputes in China are not always handled through the courts. Sometimes the foreign partner has been held hostage, threatened with violence, or beaten up. Anyone entering into a contract in China should have it thoroughly examined, both in the United States and in China. Contracts entered into in the United States are not enforced by Chinese courts. Care should also be taken when entering into a lease for an apartment or house. There have been instances of foreigners being ejected from their apartments because of lease disputes, and being prevented from re-entering, even to retrieve their belongings.

March 15, 2008 @ 1:53 am | Comment

test

March 15, 2008 @ 2:27 pm | Comment

[...] to rent out their not-so-special places for $40,000 (USD) just for the month of August. My own evil landlord told me he was inflating my already high rent by nearly 50 percent when my lease expires in [...]

June 26, 2008 @ 9:12 pm | Pingback

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