My foreign friends often ask me to help them to find a flat to rent. This is the text of my article Flat for Expat published in the English newspaper Your Yekaterinburg. I hope my friends' experience will help you to avoid unwanted problems not only in this city but all over Russia....
Flat hunt begins
“I didn’t trust my knowledge of Russian that much and asked a Russian friend to accompany me at the flat viewings,” Marco, an Italian entrepreneur said. “The problem is, when you are looking for a flat be ready to put your business aside because it’s a time consuming process and you never know when the real estate manager is going to phone you and say: ‘I’ll meet you in 20 minutes in another part of the city.' And you better rush there because you don’t want to miss another chance after a week of a tiresome hunt. So it was impossible for me to take my interpreter everywhere. On the other hand, I learnt many useful words: smesitel (mixer tap) and opressovki (periods of pipe maintenance in summer when hot water is shut off).”
In general, rental agencies in Yekaterinburg prove to be reliable. Usually, the agency commission for a successful placement is 50% of one month's rent, unlike in Moscow where it’s equal to a full month's payment. Don’t expect a real estate manager to provide transport to and between viewings. Most of them don’t drive and those who do may literally leave you puzzled:
“One of them drove us to the flat, and then, when we weren't interested, drove away and we had to get back on our own,” David, an English teacher from the UK said. “As I looked for a new flat, they were all terrible, except the very expensive ones. Don't expect luxury - MAKE the flat YOUR OWN little paradise by changing things. And pay attention to kitchens and bathrooms. That's where you spend most of your time”.
Only cash, please
There is no real division between residential and business areas in Yekaterinburg yet, therefore the closer your flat to the city centre, the more you’ll pay for it. Rental payments are generally made in a monthly, sometimes quarterly fashion. Some of them include utility charges, some don’t. Typically landlords avoid taxation. By law, income earned from rent is subject to personal income tax (13%). However, finding tenants to pay in cash is not hard in the city. Property insurance is uncommon in Yekaterinburg too.
“The only agreement that I signed with my landlord was about the payment, that it is fixed for 11 months,” Mikhail, a migrant from Moldova said. “This means my landlord can make it more expensive next year and he will surely do it. Have they ever made it cheaper with the time in Russia? I doubt it. I also noticed that very few landlords are willing to have long-term tenants. Most of them say they are going to sell the flat in the future but they never specify when it is going to happen. Hopefully, they warn you a month before. Last time I had 3 days to pack and leave because the son of my landlady returned unexpectedly from ‘a long vacation in Siberia’, as she put it.”
Landlord+tenant = friends forever?
All the expats agree that it’s important to maintain good relationship with landlords. The more you know your landlady the better. Again, there is a chance you may get into an awkward situation with a friendly babushka:
“When my boyfriend and I rented a one-room flat in Tyumen, our landlady lived next door,” Gabriella, a traveller from Germany said. “Obviously, she had the key to our flat and entered it whenever she wanted. Fortunately, she did it only when we were out and left some tasty home-made pies in the kitchen for us. It was very nice of course, but rather uncomfortable and we weren’t ready to pay her for the food. When we asked her not to do it, she seemed to be upset but kept on coming in, leaving pancakes and bowls of solyanka. Finally, our Russian friends advised to leave her a nice present on the day of departure. I have very fond memories of our landlady but I would choose another place to stay next time simply because I’m not used to this type of landlord/tenant relationship.”
The real deal
At the moment, prices for a one-room flat in the city centre range from 17 000 to 70 000 roubles. Stepan Vladimirov, a real estate manager of Nahodka – the largest agency on the rental market in Yekaterinburg – says that prices highly depend on the type of building. “The centre is traditionally the most expensive area. However, there are new neighborhoods in Uktus and Viz where rent is sometimes higher. The high season in Yekaterinburg is from August to October when students arrive in the city. At this time most of the landlords raise the rent except the elite properties.”
“When signing an agreement, make sure it includes tenant and landlord’s passport details,” Vladimirov suggests. “It’s also a good idea to ask the landlord about the document confirming his real estate right of possession. Note that a real estate manager signs another agreement between you and the agency. To do this, he must provide a power of attorney on a headed paper signed by the agency director. Otherwise, you deal with a free agent who doesn’t take responsibilities.”
One thing that all the expats find beneficial is that charges for electricity and gas are still very low in Russia and add no more than a few dollars to your monthly rental costs.
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