Negotiating rent in Chinglish – Round One

Our landlords are trying to raise our monthly rent by 200å…ƒ ($28.50). I’m determined to prevent this. But how to negotiate when you’re really still speaking Chinglish?

I think we won Round One, but that’s probably owing to the element of surprise.

The landlord first phoned one of our Chinese friends who did the original negotiations a year ago. He told them to talk to us. They called Jessica and said, “We want to raise the rent to 1200. Do you agree?” Jessica refused to get into and said they should talk to me. The landlord phoned our Chinese friend again, and this time he told them off (you can do that a lot more in Chinese culture than you can in North America; being rude isn’t as rude here, depending on the relationship). Yesterday they called again when I was out. Jessica again refused to discuss it, and told them to phone back at 8:00pm when I’d be home (as per our plan).

So last night I was waiting for their call, and had everything I wanted to say looked up in the dictionary and written down. We have to try and find a way to say “No” that is nice enough but doesn’t give them anything to work with. It also helps that they can’t bust out their super-negotiation powers on us because we don’t understand most of what she says anyway. She phoned, and after patronizing me with a slower-than-toddler-speed greeting (“Haaave. Youuu. Eeea-ten. Yet?”; 你吃完了吗? – they know Jessica’s Chinese is better than mine, plus I think they sense that Jessica would be more likely to agree to a rent increase) it went something like this:

‘Aunty Wang’ the Chinese Landlord: “We want to raise the rent to 1200. Did you discuss it?”

Me: “Yes, we discussed it. We really like living in this apartment and the neighbourhood is really great. Even though our neighbours all say 1000 per month is too much for this apartment, we think 1000 a month is OK.” (Take that, Landlord!)

This surprises her, and she laughs, I think similar to the way grown-ups laugh at primary school kids when they try to act grown-up. Then she says something about rent going up all over the city, and some other stuff I don’t catch.

Me: “But that has to do with the Olympics, doesn’t it?”

A.W.T.C.L.L.: “It has no relation to the Olympics.”

I deliberately leave some awkward dead air, forcing her to say something and wonder if I understand her. She repeats their intention to raise the rent.

Me: “We aren’t able to pay more. We are still in school and don’t have jobs.”

She repeats what I’ve been saying to her husband. It takes me few seconds to realize she’s not talking to me.

A.W.T.C.L.L.: “How about 1100?”

Me: “We still aren’t able to pay more. We are still in school and don’t have jobs.”

A.W.T.C.L.L.: “How about you two discuss it and then give us call?”

Me: “We already discussed it.”

A.W.T.C.L.L.: “But how about you two discuss it and then give us call?”

Me: “We already discussed it. Our situation is the same as before. We’re still in school and don’t have jobs.”

She says something about someone discussing and then someone giving someone a phone call. but I’m not sure who’s waiting for whom to call.

Me: “So, you’ll discuss it and then give us a call?” She confirms. “OK, I’ll wait for your call.”

I have no doubt that “Auntie Wang”‘s negotiation skills exceed my own; she’s been haggling prices longer than I’ve been alive. But if they manage to wrestle us into actually discussing the price of an increase, I have a list of major and minor repairs to the apartment to unload on them, half of which I hope to eventually stick them with before we pay any increase. But I’m hoping we never have to go there. Haha… we’ll see.

P.S. – I should mention that the dialogue above would be more accurate if I riddled my sentences with grammar mistakes. We ‘know’ how to say all that stuff, but pulling stuff out of your head in the middle of a discussion isn’t the same as writing it on paper in your homework. We can say that stuff accurately on a good day, and I can still mess some of it pretty good on a bad day.

The rest of this series:

7 thoughts on “Negotiating rent in Chinglish – Round One”

  1. Inflation in China is running at about 10% annually. The official government figures are 8.7%, but increases in the price of pork are well over 20%. If your rent was set a year ago, it isn’t unreasonable for your landlord to expect an increase.

    My place is up in a month and I’m expecting a 10% increase. If you’re already paying more than the market rate for your place, resisting a rent increase makes sense. But you shouldn’t need to play the pity card. Also bear in mind also that you won’t get the same rates Chinese people will because assuming you’ve registered with the cops, you’ve opened your landlord up for income tax scrutiny. Most Chinese-Chinese rentals are undeclared.

    I don’t mind paying 100-200 RMB more than the market rate because of the extra trouble registration gives landlords. Anything more seems exploitative and unreasonable though. Good luck.

  2. Yeah, if our neighbours hadn’t said we were already paying a little too much when we moved in last year, I’d settle quick for an extra 100 per month and try to get some of the bigger repairs/improvements out of it. 1000 per month for this place isn’t exploitive, but a little on the high side. But yeah, the inflation is no joke and noticeable everywhere.

    Our landlords are pretty good, especially compared to everyone’s Chinese landlord horror stories (from foreign and Chinese friends). I don’t intend to tick them off. I may even settle for an extra 50 kuai if they do some repairs. She seemed amused during our little discussion.

    We’ve heard mixed reviews about renting to foreigners. Apparently the registration can be a little bit of a hassle and if the danwei finds out then they have to pay some extra taxes (or something like that); our first choice denied us after they found out we were foreigners. But then there are some landlords who prefer foreigners as tenants; we have neighbours who tell us they only want to rent to foreigners. So we’ll see. At this point it’s still all language and culture practice for us.

  3. 感觉您是一个关心天津的人~

  4. yabaliu, 您太客气了。我们只是汉语学生。


  5. 看来您不但能读懂汉语,还能写出来。佩服佩服!
    可惜不知道您居住的具体地方 以及楼层面积等情况不能帮你估算大概的房租。

    现在,如果是在交通方便的地段, 一个偏单(就是两居室也就是有两个卧室)的话1200基本上算是合理的房租。

  6. This is hilarious! So glad it’s you and not me! :) You did a good job sticking to your guns, Joel…hopefully they won’t raise the rent on you.

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