This article is realized by an experienced lawyer in China-Shanghai, and give legal tips that you should know when you rent a flat in China.

1. Regarding the signing of the lease contract and the lease registration issue

When renting a house, you should sign a formal lease contract with your landlord. In addition, please remind your landlord to register the lease contract at the local Social Affairs Center. Otherwise, certain rights of you may not be protected. For example, you may not be allowed to claim to the new property owner for continuing to stay in the property until the end of the lease when the property is sold to a third party. In addition, as a foreigner, you need the lease contract to go to the local police station after moving into the house to register for foreigners’ temporary accommodation in order to comply with the relevant laws.

When signing a lease contract, you need to pay attention to several issues: First, you should make sure that the counterparty who signed the contract with you has the right to rent the house to you – the counterparty should be the owner of the house, or have the right to sublease the house. For this reason, before signing the contract, you should ask the opposite party to provide a copy of the house title certificate or the authorization letter for the right of subleasing, and attach these documents as an appendix to the contract. Second, you should go to the house to check in person to ensure that the important contents recorded in the contract, such as the house size, interior decoration, necessary facilities, etc., are at least roughly the same as the actual situation. If you encounter any questions, or an explanation or promise is necessary for certain issues, it is important to have those  recorded in the contract. It is recommended that you take some photos to save during the visit. Again, please take a closer look at your contract terms, especially those related to payment, breach of contract, and deposit forfeiture. You may need to hire a lawyer to help you review these terms in more detail.

2. Regarding housing defects

It is true that the house you rent may have flaws – some flaws may exist originally in the house, and some may only occur after you move in. No matter what the defect is, when you find that its existence has affected your normal residence, please take a photo or record a video immediately to save it, and inform the landlord in writing as soon as possible. Generally speaking, for house defects that are not caused by your problems, such as house leaks, damaged furniture, or air conditioners not working, you have the right to ask the landlord to repair them for free. If it cannot be repaired and does affect your normal living and use of the rented house, you can consider asking the landlord for compensation for the cost of fixing these problems, or you can even early terminate the contract if the issue is horrible.

3. Regarding the noise, odor and other problems generated by neighbors

Of course you don’t have to endure the rude behavior of your neighbors! For example, there is a law in Shanghai that prohibits noisy renovations or other behaviors that generate loud noises around residential areas before 8 in the morning and after 6 in the evening. Therefore, if your neighbor happens to renovate the house or having a home party during those hours, and the noise generated is loudly troublesome, you can call the police immediately. To give another example, if the restaurant opened downstairs and the fumes from the restaurant make you intolerable, you can also make a report – the police or the social service hot-line (12345) is equally effective, difference is the former is more powerful, the latter has better attitude. Of course, before you report, you need to collect evidence, photos and videos may serve the purpose. You’d better also report these problems to your landlord in written form to see if he can help you solve the problem, and his no-action somehow may cause to another reason for you to claim for compensation when a dispute happens in future between you and him.

4. On the issue of decorating the house and adding new objects

This is actually a very important question. I have helped clients deal with disputes that their deposit in security were deducted or confiscated by the landlord because they left marks by pasting pictures in the house and nailing holes in the wall, or blackening the ceiling in the kitchen from grilling. Therefore, I sincerely recommend that you try not to decorate, remodel or do anything that may leave traces that are difficult to remove.

In principle, the moveable items you purchased should be taken away when you leave, otherwise, the landlord may have the right to deal with them. For those purchases that are difficult to move or that you do not want to take away, please inform your landlord in writing before purchasing and confirm the final disposal method with him – you definitely don’t want the bulky table you left behind cause to a confiscation of your deposit.

5. Regarding the issue of the landlord selling the house to others during the lease term

This is why I said at beginning that you should remind your landlord to register the lease contract at the local Social Affairs Center after it is mutually signed. If your lease contract has been filed, then when someone else wants to buy the house, the law will assume that he should know there is an existing lease in the house. Therefore, as long as your lease contract has not expired, you can ask the new owner to continue to perform the remaining lease contract period. However, if your lease contract has not been registered, the law will most likely not support your claim to an unsuspecting buyer to continue the performance of it. Of course, in both cases, if you are forced to move out before the contractual term ends due to the transaction of the house, you can claim compensation from your original landlord, provided that there is no agreement in your contract to exclude such compensation.

6. On the issue of early cancellation of the lease contract

Quitting the house early will usually constitute a breach of your contract, unless the contract stipulates otherwise. To this end, we will give you a few suggestions in order to minimize your losses. First of all, please make sure that you carefully read the default clause regarding an early withdrawal of the lease before signing it. Try to avoid any clause that, in addition to the security deposit confiscated, requires a one-time payment of rent for the remaining unleased time in the future as compensation for an early quit, or that after you make an advance request to withdraw the rent, the landlord can anytime bring other people into the leased house for a visit without your consent. These may cause extra and great loss and injury to you. Therefore, please make sure that there are no such unreasonable terms in the contract. Secondly, you should try your best to recall whether there are any defects with the landlord’s activities or the house itself during your rental period, such as water leaks, damage to facilities or the landlord’s failure to repair the house as agreed, all of which may be used as reasons for requesting reduction in compensation for breach of contract.

7. Regarding the issue of emptying the house for a long time

This is a problem that has frequently appeared in the past two years, yes, because of the Covid-19 epidemic and the quarantines. In order to minimize your losses, consider the following suggestions: first, please make sure that the contract you signed does not have a long-term vacancy clause, such as that because the tenant has left the house vacant for a long time without using it, the landlord can cancel the lease contract and confiscate the security deposit, or the landlord can anytime enter the house and dispose of the property in the house, regardless of whether the tenant is still paying the rent for the house. Second, please make sure that you have clearly informed the landlord in writing before you may leave the house vacant for a long time, and seek his help and understanding, and ask him to help you receive letters, close doors and windows and other facilities, and conduct regular inspections to prevent unexpected situations in the house that was not discovered by you and may ultimately cause high losses. Finally, please try to take pictures of your water meter, electric meter or gas meter to prevent others from using these resources secretly during your absence. We have indeed encountered such cases before.