The Wild And Unknown Problems Of Renting in Myanmar.

Yangon is an adventurous dream for expats. Whether it’s for exotic tropical landscape or each day being greeted by the smiles of locals welcoming you to their nation it’s a privilege to live in Yangon. That is until the expat contacts the real estate agent, the banks, the bureaucrats and their forms.

For any new expat who’s joining the Yangon real estate trail this is the advice from those who’ve been shocked, a little traumatised when negotiating and signing a long term lease. Our advice is clear, find an agent who’s prepared to advocate for you and explain the variances between western real estate systems and that of Myanmar.

As Australians we landed in Yangon ready to be shown a host of apartments, Star City, Gem Condo and so the list goes.  Local agents happily showed us affordable apartments, some lovely, some that made us cringe.

As we plodded from place to place the reality of what we were facing dawned on us, and we made mistakes, big ones, small ones, and ones we don’t know about yet.

We were clueless, but this is what we now know:

The lease

  1. There are no standard leases, and many documents seems have been jotted out in some dark café down the road. Thankfully all of ours were written in both Burmese and English.
  2. A year lease means you pay a years rent upfront in most cases. Or for a six month lease you’ll be expected to pay six months in advance.
  3. The lease means nothing when it comes to payments.  Our lease in writing said “payment of rent will be made on the 16th of October”.  Yet the day we signed, the 2nd of October, we were told that was when the money was to be paid in full, otherwise the lease wouldn’t be signed.  We argued that in writing it was the 16th, to no avail.
  4. While in Australia tenants are responsible for nothing more than wear, tear and cleaning. Myanmar leases we’ve been told are designed to leave you responsible for all the problems including the airconditioning and possibly the building’s structure.  The lesson was ‘Get a real estate advocate who’s prepared to negotiable the lease and have them clearly explain your responsibilities’.
  5. The expat market is slow, so negotiate the price, or ask for ongoing costs to be included in the rent.

Other costs:    

Other costs: Believe me there are more and hidden costs! Most apartment renters will pay the management fees (for services such as security, rubbish collection and other services provided by the owner of the apartment building), Electricity costs will also be an additional charge, with different rates for the use of mains power and power generated by the building’s back-up generator, when the inevitable happens, and a brownout occurs.

If the kitchen has cooking with gas, then the gas bottle, will need to be refilled periodically. 

Who is the agent?  The unexplained, is often the unexplainable.  As we sat pen poised to sign our lease the real estate agent put down her pen, ‘have you got my money?’ she asked.  It was another moment of horror.  Why?  We’d never paid an agent to lease a house, that in Australia was the responsibly of the owner. 

Not here in Yangon, we were then told.  Renters are likely to be expected to pay a commission to the agent, equally one month’s rent for a one-year lease, or two weeks rent for a six-month lease.

Advice: Ask who is the agent, are you’re advocating for me? If so, make them work for you in negotiating the lease.

Finance:

There was nothing worse feeling than being told that we couldn’t electronically transfer money from Australia through to our Myanmar bank.  Before having to produce twelve months rent we’d relied on USD or credit card to withdraw cash.

We found ourselves being asked to pay a years lease, and it seemed that there was no way to transfer the money from Australia. We spoke to our banks, exchange companies, but none would agree for the money to be transferred to Myanmar from Australia.

Various governments around the world have made the political decision to impose restrictions on electronic transfers into Myanmar. As well banks choose not to transfer funds into Myanmar or limit how funds can be transferred. For example, the internet banking platforms of Australian banks do not allow for bank-to-bank transfers into Myanmar bank accounts.

Therefore, check with your bank (in your country of origin) as to whether your bank will arrange an international money transfer, a telegraphic transfer (TT), or a wire or SWIFT transfer into a Myanmar bank account. The cost of transfer is also important as banks can be a more expensive option as compared to money transfer companies.

Form C’s:  Every foreigner needs to have a Form C signed by the owner of the apartment you rent as part of Visa requirements.  Each time you renew a visa a new form needs to be signed.

While we’ve been told that owners are required by law to sign the forms, apparently some just can’t be bothered. 

In a panic we wrote into our lease that the owner will sign all forms required, let’s hope that works!

Final Advice:

Furniture and internal apartment:  Take photos of everything when you move in!  Furniture, damage to walls, tiles, marks on anything. 

Final, final advice:  Get a good advocate, a good real estate who’s prepared to explain what expected.

Mid negotiating our apartment my partner whispered, ‘this is just not fun.’  Had we been prepared and assisted it could have been a hoot.  Now, though, the deal is done, we wander up to our pool each morning just relieved and slightly more educated.

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