Be A Good Landlord

The following was originally published by the Shenzhen Daily

Two weekends ago, I spent a couple of days helping a friend look for an apartment. She is a young professional whose company relocated from Shanghai to Shenzhen. However, our excitement over her move quickly gave way to despair after looking at over a dozen apartments over two days. Everything less than 7,000 yuan (US$1,097.6) was falling apart and located too far from any metro stations. She finally found a very small, one-bedroom apartment for 6,000 yuan. When I moved to the city two years ago, we had a comfortable two-bedroom apartment close to a metro station for 4,500 yuan.

Shenzhen is quickly becoming known as the city with the worst landlords. I have lived in the city for only two years but am on my third landlord. The first apartment we had for 4,500 yuan, the owner sold it as soon as our contract was up, and so we had to leave. The second apartment we rented, we told the house owner that we wanted a long-term rental because we are expecting a baby. The house owner agreed and signed a two-year contract. We were only in the apartment for two months when she messaged us and told us she was selling the apartment. The new house owner keeps saying she wants us to leave so she can move into it, but she has thus far refused to give us a move-out date. This means we have now been in our apartment for over a year but haven’t been able to “settle.” We can’t completely unpack, hang pictures on the wall, or decorate the baby’s room.

After my bad experiences with my landlords and apartment hunting with my friend, I had considered writing about this problem for the newspaper, but then I found out that one of our regular contributors had already decided to write about it. However, I was dismayed by his lack of accountability as a landlord.

In last week’s opinion piece entitled “Soaring housing prices hurt SZ,” Wu Guangqiang said that Shenzhen’s housing prices are too high, which I agree with. But then he went on to relate his experience as a landlord: “The apartment we bought in 1989 is only 64 square meters in area. Since we moved to a larger unit in 2005, my wife has been in charge of leasing the original one. The initial rent was 1,000 yuan and it gradually grew to 1,500, 2,000, and 2,500 until it had hit 4,000 by the end of July this year. All of a sudden, rent prices saw another leap in July, and the price of my old, tiny flat jumped from 4,000 to 5,000… The only thing I know for sure is that the young men who rented my apartment were forced to move out and look for something smaller and cheaper.”

We have a saying in America, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” No one forced you, Mr. Wu, to raise the rent on the apartment and kick those tenants out. When you complain about rent in the city being too high, you as a landlord are the one who sets those prices. You are the only person responsible for your rental prices.

I find it interesting that Mr. Wu’s solution to this problem is for the government to get involved. He said, “Unless Shenzhen’s government does something to curb the overheating housing prices, Shenzhen will suffer, rather than benefit, from the runaway prices.” What exactly do you want the government to do? Do you really want the government to tell you how to rent out your own property? Do you want the government to tell you whom you have to rent your property to? Should the government just abolish private property? Is it so hard to be a responsible landlord that you need the government to tell you how to do it?

This is kind of like dropping garbage on the ground and then saying, “The government should really do something to stop me from littering.”

If the rental prices in Shenzhen are too high, be a better landlord and lower your rent. It is that simple.

What do you think should be done about Shenzhen’s high rent prices and bad landlords? What have some of your rental experiences in Shenzhen been like? Let me know in the comments!