Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Why I had to Move House / Renting in Taiwan / English Teachers

Renting a place short term can be a hassle in Taiwan. That is if you want live alone or share with some locals. Finding a room in a shared apartment with a bunch of foreigners who are most likely north american english teachers is easy, just look at the advertisements on the ex-pat websites. Personally I don't like living with other foreigners here, aside from the fact that you will always be speaking english with them when you should be speaking chinese, english teachers living in Taiwan can be a weird bunch, and for the most part are only here for a couple of years at most, not so interested in local culture and customs, very interested in what's going on "back home", complaining about Taiwan, making money, partying, talking about themselves etc. Often their only qualification as an english teacher is that they are a native speaker. In their home country they wouldn't teach english, they only do it here because it's a kind of "default" job. These are different to the long termers who have decided to make Taiwan home, who tend to be far more interesting, can speak Chinese, and have made a profession out of English teaching, but if you're looking to rent a place you are more likely to encounter the former group. Renting your own place poses a couple of problems. Most landlords will only want to sign a 12 month lease, which isn't much good if you don't plan to stay that long. Real Estate companies can help you locate an apartment, but usually charge half or a full months rent as their fee. There are also two types of landlord. Real landlord (房東) and second landlord (二房東). You need to ask the person you are dealing with which one they are, if you don't know. In Taiwan it is very common for a person to rent a house or apartment, then sublet the house or apartment or individual rooms in order to make a profit or live rent free themselves. My classmates in Taipei were surprised to hear that this was relatively rare in New Zealand as most landlords want to know what kind of people they have living in their property, they were also surprised to hear that alot of landlords and rental agencies want to see references from previous landlords or agencies.
Renting from second landlords can be convenient and problematic. Convenient in that it will be easier to negotiate a short term deal. Problematic in that tenancy laws become blurry, also in that you will probably never meet the real landlord or even know his or her name, so if the house has a serious problem that you feel needs fixing and the second landlord is unwilling to bother the real landlord over it, there is little you can do.
The reason I had to move house was the lease (which here is a standard red booklet which both parties have copies of and which details the terms of the lease) that I had signed with the second landlord for three months was broken by her when she decided to emigrate to the United States of America a month earlier than planned. While it was she that broke the lease, I wasn't sure what recompence I was due, so had a couple of people look over the lease, which is all in Chinese. Apparently every clause was there to protect the landlords rights, and nothing was stated regarding the tenants rights. There are laws protecting tenants however, so to cut it short she refunded me a months rent. I was still without a place to stay. It was looking like I'd be back on Chicago Stu's sofa, when one of the waiters at my local drinking hole, Orange Cafe, said I could stay at his place, as he was spending all his time at his girlfriends house. Great. So I'm now staying there. It's not the sort of place I would rent by choice. It's what's known as a "suite". I've looked at such places before and rejected them immediatley. Basically the front door opens onto a corridor with a number of doors. In this place there are seven rooms (at least here they all have windows). They are all sublet seperately, and as is usual in Taiwan, the tenants don't know each other nor do they have any interest in knowing who the other tenants are. There is no common area. People just come home and go into their little room. There is the most basic kitchen facility, and a shared bathroom. This kind of living arrangement is common in Taiwan. To me it is a miserable existence but it will suffice for the three weeks or so I have left in my semester.

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