So you’ve been searching for the perfect Phnom Penh apartment for a while, and you’ve finally found it (using our expat guide to Phnom Penh real estate and housing, we assume). Whether you’re moving into a shophouse or a luxury apartment, there are a few things you should do before you sign the lease.
→ Visit the apartment in the evening. Even if you can’t get access to the apartment itself, walk around the neighborhood and see who your neighbors are. You might not notice that you’re directly above a karaoke joint if you have only visited the apartment in the morning, but you will definitely notice once you are locked into a lease and spend your first night there.
→ Negotiate the cost of utilities and any other extras with the landlord. The actual rate for electricity is 820 riel/kWh (this is for users who use more than 100 kw in a month, which is most expats). Landlords will often charge up to 1,500 riel per kw, which can be a $20 to $30 a month difference. Many landlords will also charge a $10 or $20 flat rate for water, when if you paid by your actual usage, the cost would be closer to $2 a month. Insist on paying the going rate before signing the lease. If they refuse, walk. Landlords who rip you off from the get-go are almost certainly going to be a bad landlord in the long run.
→ Confirm that the apartment has its own electricity meter. If not, you may end up paying the bill for the entire building. It’s also worth confirming that it actually works; check to see that the numbers are moving. Turn the main power switch for the apartment off and make sure the lights are still on elsewhere in the building.
→ Negotiate any changes or additions you’d like before you move in. Most landlords are willing to do things like remove furniture or add an air-conditioner before the lease is signed, but are less willing once you’re already ensconced in the apartment.
→ Check the meter readings and make sure that the starting reading is included in your lease or other documentation.
→ If you are moving into a serviced apartment, make sure you understand what services are provided, and if there any additional fees to cover them. Cable, internet, water, garbage, and security are often covered. A few even cover electricity. Find out in advance so there are no surprises down the line.
→ Discuss with the landlord if they will provide a cleaner, or if you will need to hire one on your own. Many landlords will prefer you to hire a relative of theirs or someone they know. If you choose to do this, negotiate a price in advance.
→ Document any damage to the apartment at the outset, to have a record for when you move out. Before moving in, get the landlord’s acknowledgement of the damages.
→ Talk to the landlord and your agent about what the landlord will be responsible for. Many landlords will take care of repairs and painting, but others will consider this the tenant’s responsibility. It’s better to know up front which camp your landlord falls into.
→ Make sure that the lease details all of the above: utilities rates (unless you are paying the utilities companies directly) who is responsible for repairs, plus an inventory of what furniture the landlord has provided and its condition.
→ Negotiate the terms for getting your deposit back. Will the landlord let you use it for your last month’s rent? Will they do a walk-through with your on your last day of tenancy and return it then? Make sure this is included on your lease.
→ Provide your agent or landlord with the required documentation: a copy of your passport, visa and several passport photos that will be registered with the Sangkat that you live in. Some landlords may ask for an employment confirmation letter from your employer.
→ Agree on the move-in date and sign the lease.
→ Pay a deposit, usually equal to one or two month’s rent. You are not expected to pay your agent if you use one; the landlord will do this.
Want to know more about how to find an apartment in Phnom Penh, recommended real estate agents, and info on buying property? Check out our Phnom Penh expat guide: real estate and housing.
I don’t know if you cover this elsewhere, but here’s the deal with real estate agents or apartment finders:
They usually get to keep your deposit. So if you’re paying first and last month’s rent when you move in, the landlord gets one month of rent and the agency gets the other.
This is fine, except that it gives the agencies incentive to find you a place that is the maximum possible rent that you can pay or are willing to pay. So the agents then have a reason to collude with the landlord to get you to pay more. So a place that was really $250 will be offered up to you at $350.
If an agent is taking you around to apartments and every single place you see is renting for exactly the top dollar amount of the range you’ve given them (say your range is $0 to $350, and every place he brings you to is renting for $350) consider a different agent, because that one is just trying to get the biggest payday they can get out of you and not working in your best interests.
Do this: Set your price range lower than what you can actually pay, just put it at a minimum amount for a barang to find liveable accommodations ($100 to $200 typically for most neighborhoods, and usually more like $200) and see if you find anything you like that way. If he can only show you unsatisfactory places in the lowest price range, suggest that you could stretch your budget a bit and see where you go from there.