Securing an apartment unit in Hong Kong appears to be more relaxed than in many other countries. Although there is a standard contract governing residential tenancy agreements between landlords and renters, many provisions can be optional so it is absolutely important to review such proposed agreements in detail before signing them off. After all, a few hours of your due diligence will save a couple of years’ worth of potential household misery.
Compared to agreements between tenants and landlords overseas, the balance of power within the real estate negotiation table favors landlords than the tenants. So if you are looking to lease a residential property in Hong Kong, it is best to consult with a relevant professional in case of confusion or potential point of contention.
Here are things you need to watch out for in tenancy agreement documents. Review their wording or try to include them if they’re missing. Others can be agreed upon verbally. A reasonable landlord and a less demanding tenant could be the right recipe for a harmonious relationship for years.
- Prior to occupying the residential premises, landlords are expected to repaint the apartment. This is a common practice in Hong Kong, so you (or the landlord) may use this as a bargaining chip; tenant may give up demanding the repaint job in return for lower rates or landlord may justify the brand-new look of the apartment to ask for more.
2. Upon confirming your tenancy lease, you may negotiate for rent-free period from the landlord, up to two weeks before your lease contract commences. This is a period when you start moving your stuff and setup things (Internet connection, utilities, etc) even before you formally move in.
3. One frustrating experience that afflicts some of Hong Kong neighborhoods is pollution caused by construction works on nearby location. If you observe no construction work has taken place, get an assurance from the owner that this is true. Otherwise, significant building works or nearby building construction/demolition that commence in the middle of your apartment lease contract could bring discomfort and cause annoyance.
4. Apartments are sometimes advertised as “fully furnished” with appliances hoping to attract tenants who will save time, money and effort scouting for refrigerators, washing machines and furniture and trying to fit them into the house. But make it very clear that you also “rent” these appliances and be aware of the ownership. Therefore, the landlord should be responsible for repairs, replacements and preventive maintenance of such appliances.
5. Since there is no clear cut rule as to who is responsible for what, the tenancy agreement is a good platform to get things in black and white. For example, if there is a need for a handyman to unblock the drainage or dripping air conditioners. Also ensure that there is a fair “wear and tear” and reasonability clause (i.e., if damage was done due to negligence, tenant will be responsible) in the tenancy document.
6. Some properties are located within a pest-infested estate so try to insert a clause that pest control is part of the landlord’s responsibility. On a newly-developed estate, pest problem might not yet be a nagging problem so landlords may not mind it included in the clause.
7. It is understood that the apartment has to be bare, unless furnished with appliances in working condition, but to make things certain, get assurance from the landlord that the apartment is cleaned (and painted) before you move in.
8. Make the landlord agree to transfer electricity, gas, and other utility account under your name before commencement of your lease. This is to grant you more control and convenience when transacting these utility accounts.
9. State clearly in the contract that the tenant is only responsible in covering their own properties for insurance, and a separate one for the premises itself should be borne by the landlord.
10. We all know management of flats isn’t only going to involve monthly rental payments, there are also other expenses such as cleaning, security and management. Therefore, who is responsible for payment of management fees, government rates and other fees should be clearly identified, and this is usually the landlord.
11. It is a standard within the world of property rental that the tenant is required to put up cash worth two month’s deposit and one month advance payment prior to getting the keys and officially start the tenancy contract. But sometimes ending a contract can lead to disputes and definition of “deposit” may be vague to begin with. Can the money deposited in landlord’s favor be used to defray cost for damage or repairs? Should it only be for the purpose of paying for the remainder of the contract? This must be clearly defined as well.
12. While the tenancy contract is signed and in effect, sometimes the landlord will receive a lucrative offer from a buyer and decides to sell the property. Should such possibility occur, a prior agreement must be arranged. Whether the new owner honor the existing contract or ask the tenant to vacate premises? The tenant should have enough leverage such as ability to utilize the deposit or granted enough time to look for new home before leaving the premises.
13. Once the tenant notifies the landlord he does not intend to renew the tenancy agreement, the landlord will start putting the flat into the market. This could also mean strangers accompanied by property agents start knocking at your door to inspect the premises. While there is no way you can refuse entry of legitimate visits, you can arrange with the landlord regarding frequency of inspections, allowed hours of visit and so on.
14. Discuss with the landlord regarding repairs and defects discovered at the apartment. Should the issue be raised with the landlord, who will secure services of a third-party repairman, should the agent be involved in sorting out the problem or the tenant will arrange for repairs and deduct repair costs against the monthly rental upon presentation of service receipt?
15, At the day of your handover, often during the moment you sign the contract and paid the required fees, make sure you get the following from the landlord:
- Complete set of keys (front door, inside doors, mailbox, etc)
- Detailed list of appliances, fittings and furniture and their working condition
- Accessories such as remote controls for air conditioning
- Access cards (this may be applied at management office)
- User manual of appliances, if provided
We hope this list gives you enough things to discuss and negotiate with the landlord. It is a privilege for every tenant to be allowed to live in a house someone else owns, but owners too have to be responsible of the well-being, comfort and safety of their paying tenants.