Moving is never easy. Organizing, packing, getting rid of stuff, cleaning… it all starts to get ridiculous after a while. It helps to know you’re going somewhere exciting, it also helps to have some time to prep and plan. A few days ago it was time to check out of my apartment, and I learned some harsh lessons.
When moving to China I was naive. I had lived on my own before, but I hadn’t had to make my own housing arrangements before. As a Peace Corps Volunteer the Peace Corps sets it all up for you. You show up and your housing is all arranged. It may not be up to your standards (no heating, no running water) but there are standards that must be met. In Beijing I was excited (and not a little terrified) to look for my own apartment, pick the best one, and rent it. All by myself! Not having done this stuff before, I made a few mistakes:
- Letting my real estate agent know just how much money I was allotted for rent.
- Not having an independent party help translate for me.
- Not documenting EVERYTHING when I moved in.
Mistakes one and two weren’t that awful, I just forgot that while Tom, my real estate guy, was really nice he was always looking after the bottom line. He met me every time I asked, no matter the day or how short the notice. He also showed me lots of different apartments in the area I wanted; some were above my price range, a few below, but most about where I was comfortable.
My biggest mistake was the third one. When I finally settled on an apartment and was ready to sign all the papers I didn’t know that I had to document all of the damage in the apartment. But alas, I was dealing with a management company, not an independent owner. Said management company is out for the most money, always. When I had issues with my visa and residency permit I had to threaten to move out of my apartment because the company was being so uncooperative.
On Monday I moved all of my stuff across town to the apartment of some friends of mine, S and L. Tuesday, I spent the day cleaning my recently vacated apartment and waiting for a friend, K, to help translate for me and check out with the management company. Unfortunately, my air conditioning unit broke a few days before, turning my apartment into an oven. I did not know it was possible for me to sweat that much. I even contemplated turning the refrigerator on full blast and leaving the door open.
So, two hours of cleaning and scrubbing (where the hell did all of that dust come from?) later I’m ready to check out, but my friend K is not ready to help translate. So, I sit on my couch, in the baking heat and wait. And wait, and wait.
Finally my friend shows up and we go to the management company, which is conveniently located downstairs, and ask to be checked out. We’re told we must wait an hour. So, K and I sit down in the management office, prepared to wait out the hour in the air conditioning. We must have made them nervous because a scant few minutes after sitting down K and I are asked to head upstairs to my apartment with the Thin Man. The Thin Man is the same guy who rented my apartment to me, he seems nice enough, but speaks no English whatsoever.
The next hour was one of the most frustrating, and uncomfortable of my life. The Thin Man checked over the apartment in detail and began listing imperfections:
- Missing light bulbs in the overhead fixtures
- Scuffs on the hardwood floor
- Damage to the wall where something was torn down
- One of the shower doors is off the hinges (but still functional)
- The door handle to the bathroom is loose and coming off the door (but still functional)
With the exception of the damage to the wall, everything was that way when I moved in. As each item was counted off by the Thin Man I explained to K that all was like that when I moved in. But slowly, the expenses started to add up. 850 RMB for this, 500 RMB for that, 250 RMB for the other thing… Each time I explained that all of this damage was already there when I moved in the Thin Man and K would have a lengthy discussion in Chinese, but very little was translated back to me.
Eventually I said I would pay for pretty much everything but the f*&%ing shower door because it’s still fully functional, but the Thin Man wouldn’t back down. See, since I didn’t document any of this damage when I moved in, there was no way to prove that I didn’t do it or exacerbate it. K, sweet young college kid that he is couldn’t help me negotiate it down, and finally I had had enough. I had to leave the hot, stuffy apartment that I had spent the day cleaning, and cool off by the elevators.
A few minutes and several choice curse words later K appeared around the corner carrying my backpack. He’d reached the end of the agreement with the Thin Man and spared me the pain of having to go back and face my massive, expensive mistake.
Of my 4000 RMB security deposit I only received 1800 RMB back. And the only damaged that I actually incurred during my time in that apartment was 500 RMB worth.
Harsh Lessons Learned:
Take pictures of EVERYTHING when you move into a new apartment. Print those photos, make sure they’re dated and time-stamped, too. Write down all the damage in the contract as well. That document may be the only thing standing between you and your security deposit.