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© RIA Novosti. Mikhail Fomichev

Strings attached

by Natalia Antonova at 16/02/2012 22:23

If New York’s grassroots political party “The Rent Is Too Damn High” ever came to Moscow, it’s possible that thousands, if not millions, of people would get behind it.

Cheaper housing has its downsides – including obvious ones, such as living in a poorly-maintained building

© RIA Novosti. / Ruslan Krivobok

Cheaper housing has its downsides – including obvious ones, such as living in a poorly-maintained building

Nobody likes to feel as though they’re overpaying for their apartment, especially if it hasn’t been renovated in a while, the faucets leak and the landlords are people of questionable character. These are all regular features of life at the cheaper end of the Moscow real estate spectrum, but hunting for a real bargain can have its own unpleasant consequences.

A lot of solitary renters, for example, aim to save money by renting directly from their landlords – but can find themselves victims to a landlord’s whims.

 

Horror stories

“I found a room for 15,000 rubles [about $500] per month via a social networking site,” Yelena Bobrova, who moved to Moscow from St. Petersburg last summer, told The Moscow News. “It was in a two-bedroom flat, which was well-maintained.”

Although Bobrova was initially happy to share the flat with her landlord’s younger sister, she soon found out that the arrangement came with strings attached. Bobrova was not allowed to have any visitors stay over, including her mother – something that she was not warned about in advance.

“Of course, I wasn’t planning on having groups of friends stay over for weeks, or to have weird men come over, or to throw loud parties,” Bobrova said. “But I was basically being denied a social and personal life.”
Bobrova teamed up with an American expat who had faced similar restrictions on her per- sonal life at her previous apartment. “We ended up renting a two-bedroom flat through a real estate agency,” Bobrova said. “We spent a lot of money, but we get along really well.”

If an apartment seems too good to be true – that’s because it probably is.


Mentally ill landlords

Ksenia Bolchakova rented a place for what she thought was a bargain price of 35,000 rubles (about $1,200) per month, only to discover that her landlady was suffering from untreated schizophrenia and thought nothing of violating personal boundaries.

“She used to spend nights at my place when I wasn’t there,” Bolchakova told The Moscow News. “She completely destroyed the bathroom before trying to live with me, and then two months later, she robbed me.”

Some renters often attempt to cut into existing costs by finding roommates, which can be risky. Natalya, who asked that her last name not be used, used to rent a room in a two-bedroom apartment in Moscow’s Medvedkovo neighborhood for 30,000 rubles (about $1,000) per month.

Some landlords will insist that no socializing will take place on the premises

© Olga Kirsanova

Some landlords will insist that no socializing will take place on the premises

“The guy we were sharing the apartment with decided to take in a roommate as a means of splitting the rent,” Natalya said. “He found a guy named Roman via a website aimed at connecting landlords and renters.”

Roman seemed normal at first, but his behavior soon grew erratic. He took to issuing threats and repeatedly barricading himself in the room he was meant to be sharing.

“We asked him to move out, but at that point, he demanded $1 million and a helicopter,” Natalya said. “We had to involve the police and the landlord to finally kick him out.”

A landlord’s unruly pet can present an unexpected problem

© Olga Kirsanova

A landlord’s unruly pet can present an unexpected problem


Feline fix

Sometimes, a seemingly innocuous detail – such as the presence of the landlord’s pet – can turn nasty.

For Spaniard Xavier Colas, the problem was a cat that became addicted to pain medication his elderly landlady was using.

The cat “became a real junkie,” Colas told The Moscow News.

The cat was “an aggressive animal, suffering from withdrawal symptoms, and [used to] jump at my face and attack my bedroom door. The only way to calm him was to give him the drugs – it was my moral duty to say no, but I wanted to give him the whole box.”

 

Question more

‘You’re a jerk’ – Waking up to an insult scrawled next to your front door is, in some cases, getting off easy

© Olga Kirsanova

‘You’re a jerk’ – Waking up to an insult scrawled next to your front door is, in some cases, getting off easy

Eva Kharitonova, who runs a mainstream Moscow real estate agency, Agentessa, told The Moscow News that it is still possible to save on rent and avoid disaster – “if one is prepared to ask a lot of questions and be a bit of a psychologist.”
“Real estate is very much unregulated in Moscow – and so it’s often up to individuals to make sure they have their bases covered,” Kharitonova said.

Among obvious pitfalls to avoid, Kharitonova stressed the potential dangers of renting a fixer upper. “It seems like a good deal – you pay a low monthly fee, and in exchange, you do repair work around the apartment,” she said. “But very frequently, once you have invested a lot of your own time and money in the apartment – greed will take over. The landlord will see how nice it looks and raise your rent.”

According to Kharitonova, looking for bargains on your own is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. “Obviously, as a real estate agent, I will recommend that people go through real estate agents,” Kharitonova added. “You pay a fee, but agents are good at finding real bargains – so you can save more in the long term, and avoid major hassles.”

Sadly, it seems that as long as the Moscow real estate market remains a Wild West-style free-for-all, bargain hunters will continue to have to work against the odds.

Read other articles of the print issue "The Moscow News #11"
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