Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time to move on

I used to think I'd been very lucky with my present landlord. And perhaps I have been.

I used to think he was one of the nicest, friendliest, most reasonable, most helpful landlords you could ever hope to encounter in Beijing. And he probably is.

I used to think he was one of the least crazily avaricious landlords I'd find in this city. And he might well be.

Well, I was a little miffed when I discovered he had bumped the rent up by about 10% over what he was charging the previous tenant, after assuring me he had frozen it at the same level. But that's not such an unreasonable increase in Beijing's bubbling cauldron of a property market; and perhaps that particular misrepresentation was more my letting agent's fault, anyway.

And it was a blow to find myself having to pay about the same for this place as I had for my previous apartment, which was nearly twice as big. But I had had a particularly sweet deal on that place, and had managed to hold the rent almost static for 5 years; Beijing property prices have gone through the roof in that time.

And, yes, I was briefly very galled indeed when I discovered he had removed the upright piano from the apartment (which he had promised to leave for me), just before I moved in, without telling me. Oh, I believed him when he told me his teenaged daughter had suddenly decided she wanted to learn the piano. And it's not as if I play the thing myself. But I had been tempted to have a try at learning it. And I have fond memories of banging away on a piano untutored in my earliest childhood. At the very least, I have a few friends who play a bit and would have welcomed the opportunity to come over occasionally to practise. And it's just a nice object to have around the place, a characterful adornment to a room. I'd been looking forward to living with a piano, dammit! I figure that was worth another 200 or 300 rmb a month off the rent, but....

On the whole, though, it's been a very comfortable two years here. For a reasonably modern and well-appointed apartment, in a very convenient location in central Beijing, I have been paying an extremely reasonable rent - by the outrageously inflated standards that now prevail almost everywhere in this city.

However, in the last few months, the din from the subway construction project away down the road has been getting so intense that it's difficult to sleep through it without earplugs. And just recently, a water leak from one of the upstairs neighbours wrecked the ceiling of my study and nurtured an efflorescence of mould (to which I appear to be violently allergic).

And government measures to cool down the overheating property market are starting to bite: price increases have slowed dramatically this year, with some parts of the country - and even some parts of Beijing - now reporting zero growth, or slight decreases. A catastrophic price readjustment will probably be averted somehow, but there's certainly a 'bubble' here - huge numbers of apartments that have been bought purely as speculative investments and are being left to stand empty - and prices can't keep going up forever; it seems likely property prices will soon be hitting a plateau, if not suffering at least a modest downward blip.

So, you know, I was expecting my landlord - the cheery, bumbling, ever-so-helpful erhu player - to ask for a moderate increase in the rent when the lease renewal comes around. That is perfectly standard, inevitable. I was not expecting him to demand a 35% hike.

I have 5 weeks to find somewhere else to live...

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