The lessons I learn in Cambodia are innumerable:
Remember to renew your visa on time.
Hold on tight to your handbag.
Don’t go to the cinema on a Sunday night.
Bug spray is a necessity.
You’re probably going to get sick about once a month, nothing is seriously wrong with you; it just happens.
During rainy season, you have to plan lightly and have a fluid schedule.
Drink lots of fresh coconuts to avoid dehydration.
Settle your tuk tuk price before getting to your destination.
Never go into the Walkabout.
The newest lesson, hard learned per usual, is what not to do and more importantly what to do when renting property.
I recently posted about the new apartment I’m lucky enough to now call home in a flurry of excitement and that excitement has not worn off. While there have been little fixes needed around the place (uneven shower floor, sticking wardrobe door, wi-fi password issues), they have all been righted within 24 hours with a positive attitude, reassurance from the manager, resulting in a perfect space. The more time I spend in the new apartment, the more I find comfort and ease in it. Cooking at home is now a pleasant activity, lounging on a plush sofa with a working air conditioner and knowing I have electricity makes coming home stress free, and not once have I seen an insect other than a gnat. What has made the move even brighter is the helpfulness and generosity of the landlord, manager, and staff-not once have I felt uncomfortable in the new situation.
This couldn’t be a further cry from the past scumbag (yes, total jerky jerk) I had as a landlord. While some of my roommates thought he wasn’t so bad, I fully expect living conditions according to what I was initially promised and his sneaky, weasel-like demeanor and unwillingness to make necessary fixes within a proper time frame, denying his tenants things that should be accessible just because of his laziness, and overall unavailability sent me to loathing him by the end of six months. It could have been avoided; I could have chosen a different place with a better landlord, but in my naiveté I jumped for the first place I found likable and just went for it akimbo.
While I’m no pro at apartment hunting, there are a few words of advice I give to anyone looking into renting in Phnom Penh, and probably anywhere for that matter. Sleazy landlords, faulty buildings, and general frustration are everywhere.
- Sometimes working with real estate agents can be a pain, but in many cases helps to have someone backing you on your decision that knows the area, the language, and the laws. Khmer440.com can be a good tool for finding posters that are agents and Cambodia Parent Network is an excellent tool to use as well. Just be clear with what you want and what your price range is, if you find them not respecting what you’re looking for within your first few outings with them-try another agency. Photos help, emailing back and forth before viewings definitely helps, open communication is key. An agent will be there to point out the small print, translate, and make sure your contract serves you, and your landlord, well. They also usually provide a copy of a contract that includes the basic and necessary articles that your landlord may not include.
ie: landlord taking care of electrical problems
A few good ones that I’ve had experiences with or friends have had in Phnom Penh are Dragon Realty, Rooftop Asia, and CBRE.
- Get to know your landlord beforehand. Ask what he does for a living, how many properties he owns, how long he’s owned the property, how long he has been renting, about his family, etc. Ask to see the land title certificate or land purchase contract. Try and get to know your landlord personally, if you’re really going to be doing business with the person over the next year or so, why not find out how they handle their every day?
- Get to know the building history. Find out who lived in the apartment before you, why they left, how long they lived there. You can gauge the answers for honesty and get an understanding if the place might fit your needs, personality, and lifestyle.
- Try and have a witness, local preferred, with you at the time of signing and inspection. If you don’t speak Khmer yourself, it’s good to have a buffer if your landlord doesn’t speak English (or whatever your language may be) well.
- Read the fine print. Read the large print. Read ALL print. Then, reread. Make sure that everything is included in your lease. Some things missing from mine were: who will take care of electric, water, or rodent problems if they occur. We had a verbal agreement that he would, but let’s see how that goes down in the courts of Cambodia for a foreigner. Anything that is missing from the text, have them add then and there before you sign. It might seem like extra work initially, but will save you time and money later in the instance of problems that arise.
- Get what you want. If you’re paying for a furnished apartment for example and desks are said to be included, write a descriptive note about what you are expecting. Include pictures if you’re really particular! If it’s agreed upon by the landlord, have him sign off on it. In a serviced apartment, set out cleaning days and what is included in cleaning beforehand. You’re moving into somewhere you’re going to LIVE. Think of your comfort levels and what you liked from your previous place and see what you can do to ensure that you can get that in your new home.
- Talk about everything on the agreement. Every Article on the agreement should be discussed with the landlord or manager. If you’re unclear about anything, ask. If they can’t answer or you feel uncomfortable about the answer, dig further. It could be the crack that makes the deal fall apart.
- All contracts should be presented in both English and Khmer and each party should have copies of the document.
- Walk around the new space with the landlord and a witness. Write down all damages you see in the apartment. Watch for mold, leaks, holes, chips, scratches, glue residue, ANYTHING. Write down everything, better yet take a photo, and have all three parties sign the document.
Some specifics to remember:
-Check for hot water heaters, you might think it’s a DUH but there are many places that don’t actually have them
-Turn on all taps, make sure drainage system is intact. Flush all toilets too
-Turn on all air conditioners, lights, and fans. Anything that is electric should be in working condition unless stated otherwise by the landlord previously.
-Do you want a washing machine? They’re 50/50 in the apartments I’ve looked at, don’t assume there is one.
-Go around with a phone charger or lamp and check electric sockets to make sure they are working
-Try locks on all doors and windows from the inside and outside
-Make everyone be quiet. Listen for skittering in the ceiling, sound through the walls, construction, etc.
-Check specifics on the lease like: can you sublet, what are the deposit terms, what happens at the end of the lease?
- On the move in day, be sure to do a double check and make sure everything that needed to be fixed or repaired has been done. Do not move in until it has, while paying $20 for a hotel can be a pain for a few nights, it’s better to get things done properly the first time around. Be firm and clear on what your expectations were (they should be written in your lease, see!) and that they need to be filled. Lose your spine a little and a seedy landlord will walk all over you.
- You might be used to security deposits. They aren’t a rule here. Check if you can rent the place by paying first and last without a security deposit.
- Exterminate before, not after, moving in. If you still love the place even if vermin are discovered upon your inspection, have the landlord take care of the beasties before you move in-not after. Firstly, they might get “busy” and not be able to do it right away; exposing you to God knows what. Secondly, you’ll get lazy about it as time goes on. What’s a rat in the ceiling if it means you can just leave shit where it is and not have to find somewhere else to stay the few days it takes for them to gas the place?
- Make copies of your documents (lease contract, receipt, etc) when moving in. Make sure you have a copy safely stored somewhere other than your apartment in case you lose yours or need another for one reason or another. Keep all receipts, bills, documents over your course of stay.
- Get your landlord’s contact information. How can you reach him in case of need? If he is unavailable through that form of communication, what is the backup route or person you can speak with?
- Ask about what to do in case of problems, make sure it’s on lease-WRITTEN. Be aware than in Cambodia, there are not the typical renter-landlord laws. Problems like noisy neighbors, power cuts, broken appliances-they can all be nuisances and they can all be ignored by your landlord in many cases and you can’t do much about it. Do your research on your rights before communication with your landlord and do so assertively, but not aggressively.
- Hope for the best and expect the worst. Know that things will go wrong, as they do anywhere else, and that there are ways to have them fixed. Get creative if possible, labor and parts are inexpensive in Cambodia and if you can do something yourself the right way the first time around, sometimes it’s better to just do it that way. Remember what you’re paying for and keep all things in perspective.
Now if only I could take my own advice!
I’ve learned you can’t point fingers when you’ve backed yourself into a corner. Take the time to go through the correct processes.
This blog, Cambodian Law, among many other legal sites, helped me get a little insight on what I could have done better and what to be sure to do in the future along with other laws that may just come in handy if my plans to stay continue on.
Read the rule books and the laws before getting involved, you’re a guest in the country and as frustrating as things can get-sometimes you’ve just got to take it on the chin (aka lose your bloody deposit) and move on to greener pastures.