How To rent an Apartment

Daniel Brooks

After having lived in Moscow many years, I thought that helping a close friend find a rental apartment in the city would be a piece of cake. After all, the web sites offering properties showed no shortage of apartments to rent.  AVITO.RU alone offered well over 8000 listings of one bedroom apartments. The other web sites showed similar numbers in the city. With so much property on the market, finding one of them didn’t seem like it would be too difficult. Little did I know.

Finding a rental turned out to be more difficult than expected for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the vast number of agents seeking new ways to earn commissions. Some agents have begun to work almost as con artists. I hope this article will help people rent an apartment of their dreams without being ripped off.

Working as a commission agent in the apartment rental market seems to be a popular business these days. Either that or the supply of people with selling skills exceeds the availability of jobs. Because there are so many agents on the market, apartment owners are deluged with phone calls from agents as soon as apartments are listed. The agents offer to find renters with no commissions paid by the owners. As a result, most of the listings on line provide the contact details for agents, not the owners.  Many of the listings show apartments that don’t exist or have long since been rented out. Often, the purpose of these ads is to initiate a phone call to an agent.

Anyone answering an ad for an apartment rental in Moscow soon learns about a new scam in town offered by the agents. It works something like a short con, convincing the unsuspecting renter that a beautiful apartment is just waiting to be rented at a fantastically low price. To see it, the renter is convinced by phone to pay a quick visit to the agent’s office. Most agents promise that no commissions or advance payments will be asked for. At the agent’s office, the hard sell follows. The agent has memorized a sales pitch and shows several pictures of two or three ideal apartments in perfect locations. Excited about these properties, the person seeking properties signs a contract and makes a cash payment, before getting the contact details for the rentals. The agents, often young and honest looking people, promise to fulfill the terms of the contract and send five recommendations per day of high quality apartments, with photos.  The agency also promises to contact the landlords in advance, before showing the apartments to the client. They have a vast data base. Off the happy renter goes to visit the properties.

After leaving the agency and on the way to visit the apartments, it turns out that the beautiful apartments seen at the agent’s office – don’t exist. Either that, or no one answers the phone at the properties, the landlord is not interested in showing the rental, the price is too high, the location is terrible or the apartment is unfit to live in.  A call to the agency produces promises of apartments to come. Few are sent. In the days and weeks that follow, the apartments recommended by the agent turn out to be duds, one after the other, or no recommendations are sent at all.

Here are a few simple rules of thumb when looking for an apartment. Pay nothing to any agency before signing a rental agreement and make this clear to any agents you might come in contact with. Never pay commissions at all, if possible. If anyone offers an apartment, meet the agent or owner at the property and don’t waste time going to the agent’s office. When visiting an apartment, ask to see the owner’s passport and title of ownership for the property. If the person signing the lease is not the owner, ask for a power of attorney authorizing that person to rent out the property, demand a visit with the actual owner and be shown an original lease.  Remember, a power of attorney document can also be fake. Only sign a lease that you have read carefully. Without taking these steps, don’t rent the property. If you pay a commission, negotiate it in advance. When the agents say a commission equal to a month’s rent is the standard rate throughout Moscow, don’t believe a word of it. All commissions are negotiable. The best commission is no commission at all.

To find landlords and properties, visit VKontakte and Facebook frequently and read the ads placed there. Join a Vkontakt web page devoted to apartment searches and rentals. Vkontakte will need to be used diligently because good properties go fast. Ask all your friends and relatives if they know about any apartments for rent. Check CIAN.RU as often as you can for new listings placed by the owners of apartments and call them as soon as the listings come on line. Other sites can be visited as well such as, IRR.RU and – however unlike CIAN.RU, these sites don’t provide a screening option to show rentals offered by the owners and not the agents. used to be a place that advertised rentals but these days, the offerings of properties at this site for foreigners are few and far between, perhaps because expats are fewer in the city as well.

Be patient and trust no one. Many agents claim to be landlords but when the property is visited, it turns out they are not. Any apartments offering rents that are well below the market rate are in all likelihood fake. Ads older than a month are also, in all likelihood, fake or not worth renting. Before visiting a property, make the owner promise the apartment matches the pictures on the site.  They often don’t.

The person I was helping eventually found an apartment. It was discovered by visiting CIAN.RU frequently and only calling property owners. The owner of the apartment was called minutes after the ad went on line. The renter visited the apartment as the previous renter was moving out and as the cleanup of the apartment was taking place. All the documents lined up. Lesson learned. Happy ending, a few roubles shy of the starting point.