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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When in Doubt, Write It Out

Most mundane events and processes take on an added complexity in Moscow, and renting an apartment is no different. In fact, since leasing property for a rental income was highly restricted under Soviet civil law, Russians lack of experience in this area makes renting particularly difficult.

Because Russians had little exposure to contract law during Soviet times, many landlords here lack fundamental respect for written agreements. This, coupled with the raw capitalism that characterizes today's Russia, make tenant-landlord relations prone to misunderstandings and conflicts. When landlords feel that the market value of their apartment has gone up, they very often will declare their intention to cancel a contract to re-rent for a higher rate.

Landlords also have a very creative understanding of force majeure circumstances. In addition to the traditional list of earthquake, flood, and political upheaval, Russian landlords are just as likely to add "my grandmother is ill" or "my ex-wife has moved back to Moscow and wants the apartment back."

Landlords also have a very limited sense of their obligations beyond providing four walls. If a neighbor on the floor above floods the apartment, landlords often cannot be bothered to assist and have the gall to assume that this is the tenant's problem.

Such problems can often be avoided by employing one simple bit of advice -- "write it down." When drafting a rental agreement, discuss all relevant issues and clarify them in detail -- even the apparently obvious ones. If you agree that a room will be painted, then include this. If a television is to be provided, spell this out in the contract. Agreeing on such mundane issues verbally over a shot or two of vodka may seem like the thing to do at the time, but six months down the line the lack of a detailed rental agreement may be regretted. Most real estate agencies will provide assistance in signing a rental agreement, but it is worthwhile roping the agency into the relationship as well. Sign an agreement with the agency obliging them to step in if any conflicts arise.

The most serious and nerve-wracking dangers of renting an apartment are the possibilities that the owner will try to cancel a contract or arbitrarily try to raise the rent. Attempting to resolve such disputes through official channels is hopeless, regardless of whether the contract has been notarized and registered. However, tenants have one trump card to play in such instances: Since apartment owners practically never declare rental income with the tax authorities, a subtle threat to register the contract or even pass on the receipts from past rental payments is normally enough to end any talk of rent increases or cancelling of contracts. One should certainly request the assistance of one's agency with such an approach.

Like landlords, expatriates also carry a reputation before them. There was a time when we could all pass ourselves off as "solid" and "reliable." By now, however, there are enough landlords out there who have had foreign tenants stiff them for rent and enormous phone bills and leave their apartments in shambles.

When renting an apartment, be very thorough in your negotiations and include as much detail as possible in the rental agreement. But also understand the suspicion and wariness of your future landlord. Landlord-tenant relations are more problem-filled in Moscow; however, such relations can and do turn out quite well when thoroughly negotiated beforehand.

Jeffrey Donnelly is the director of real estate agent and renovator Home Sweet Home in Moscow.